Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Dubai artist highlights tradition amid the glitz

By Zeinab Al Hashemi, Special to CNN
December 14, 2012 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
  • Zeinab Al Hashemi is an Emirati mixed-media visual artist based in Dubai
  • The 25-year-old specialized in multimedia design at Zayed University in the UAE
  • This year she became one of the first female artists-in-residence at Art Dubai
  • She draws upon Emirati culture to create contemporary installations

Editor's note: Zeinab Al Hashemi was one of six artists-in-residence at Art Dubai 2012, a leading international art fair. The 25-year-old is inspired by the traditions of Dubai and works closely with the Emirate's craftsmen. She is also the creator of Dibs & Dips, the first Emirati pop art pastry catering company.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- If you look at Dubai, there is the modern side and the traditional side, but they all interact with each other. If I'm in the car, I can go from one place to another and see different backgrounds, different people and different surrounding -- and for me this is always interesting to show in my work.

I have seen it growing -- more buildings, hotels and lots of architecture being constructed all the time. It has changed rapidly over the past 10 years.

I think I am lucky to see it all happen because now if there is an extra building, I would not really notice it! I have seen it all change. It is part of who I am.

There is always that other side of Dubai where it is very simple, humble and down-to-earth, regardless of who you are. I think it is always important to see the original Dubai, how it used to be, and a lot of it is still there.

There is always that other side of Dubai where it is very simple, humble and down-to-earth
Zeinab Al Hashemi

I don't mind having these modern architectural buildings. It was more of a desert over here with tents and small houses, so there wasn't really much to preserve. Our job was to build more and I think Dubai has that balance where there are the old and the new areas.

I'm very interested in artisans of the region because few of them exist. I always like to work one-to-one with craftsmen and recreate what they are making. I try and look for traditional materials. I would take a traditional material and maybe wrap it around a Formula One car ... or fit it on an art platform in a new way.

I would call myself a multidisciplinary designer -- I use more than one medium at the same time.

More from Human to Hero: How 'Slam Dunk' Manga artist brings characters to life

Arab artist re-energizes craftsmanship

Sometimes an old Emirati man will come and whisper in my ear: "Isn't this a gargour (traditional fishing trap made of steel)?" And I would say, "Yeah." For me this is what I am trying to do -- show my work to people who maybe are not from an art background.

Roller hockey star lives for his sport

Art Dubai is an art fair that happens every year in March. I was an artist-in-residence in 2012.

Manga master paints 'real' characters

The residency program is located in Old Dubai. There are a couple of old buildings that are turned into art spaces. I wanted to do something connected to the area, so just a couple of blocks away, if you walked through Bastakiya (one of the oldest most traditional districts of Dubai) you would see the fabric shops and I remembered the textile shops from my childhood. My mum would get fabrics and I think this was where my interest in art and colors started.

Waste material turned into masterpieces

There is usually a cardboard tube that they wrap around the fabric and ... so I said, "Can I use them?" I ended up collecting about 50 a day from different shops. I created stools and chairs that you could arrange in different ways as modular furniture.

More from Human to Hero: Ghanian artist who transforms bottle tops into masterpieces

I was also very interested in the wooden hand barrows that are used to take these fabrics from one shop to another. Most of the hand barrow men -- known as haath gadi wallahs -- can only speak Urdu. I convinced one of them to work with me like a performance and I took him into Bastakiya which has very narrow streets.

But right now instead of having fabrics on that barrow, it has got an art piece on it made out of cardboard tubes. To me it is the juxtaposition of history with something from the present. People were interacting with it really nicely, asking questions as they saw it moving around, others thought he must have lost his way from the souq and that is what I wanted to achieve.

I called it Prayer on a Wheel. This is an example of how I tend to do my work -- take something from our past that is still used in our present and then redesign it in a new form and give it a new function -- and most of the time it is an artistic function -- to reintroduce it again.

Recently I wanted to explore the gargour. They used to make them out of dry palm leaves but now they make them out of metal wire. With the help of craftsmen we joined the fish traps together to make a full sphere. The name of it was Present, Perfect and Continuous -- defining that this tool of fishing that was in the past can still be used in the present and can continue to be used in the future.

More from Human to Hero: Chinese sculptor Xiang Jing's painful search for truth

I think Emirati artists are trying to invent their identity and create a regional style for Dubai.
Zeinab Al Hashemi

I think Emirati artists are trying to invent their identity and create a regional style for Dubai. It is less challenging when you are a woman because they always think that art is your feminine side. I would like to see a lot of collaborations with Emirati and international artists or designers. (British designer) Stuart Haygarth created a light sculpture out of palm leaves with the help of Emirati artisans (at the recent Abu Dhabi Art Fair.)

I would love to do this one day. People would see the possibilities we have got here. I think collaborations are very powerful because they mix the media from different backgrounds and when you put them together there are a lot of unexpected results.

Part of complete coverage on
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
Hurtling down a mountain side at 50 mph on a bike isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for Rachel Atherton it's a zen-like experience.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Rachel Atherton is a world champion in downhill mountain biking, one of the most extreme of all the cycling disciplines.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
In the twinkle of an eye, Israel Folau has accomplished what most athletes would be happy to achieve in an entire career in not one, but three sports.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Helgi Sveinsson was a promising handball player until bone cancer forced his left leg to be removed. Undaunted, he picked up a javelin.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
Nguyen Van Chieu has fostered the growth of the Vietnamese marital art since the 1960s, helping the sport go from strength to strength.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1809 GMT (0209 HKT)
Carissa Moore is a double world champion and she's still only 22 years old. Her exploits on the ocean are making waves both in and outside surfing.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Playing pro ping pong is a bit like running the 100m while playing chess, says Ai Fukuhara.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
Guor Mading Maker's story makes most sporting tales of triumph over adversity look like a walk in the park.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
The comparison might irk Michael Jackson purists, but it's easy to see why Kilian Martin's fans liken his fancy footwork to the late "King of Pop."
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
Olympic hero Kosuke Kitajima is hoping to inspire a new generation of Japanese swimming stars ahead of his home 2020 Toyko Games.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0935 GMT (1735 HKT)
Much may have changed in post-Communist Romania, but its production line of gymnasts continues to generate champions.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Taking time out to eat a homemade chocolate cake is hardly the conventional way to win a mountain race, but don't tell Emelie Forsberg.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
He grew up in a surfing party town on the U.S. "space coast" and has conquered waves in the world's most exotic locales.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Christian Taylor knows all about putting his best foot forward -- but the Olympic triple-jump champion has had to rewire his muscle memory.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in her native Bali.