Emirati artist Abdulla Lutfi’s mural captures Dubai’s old and new

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Abdulla Lutfi’s new mural at Time Out Market Dubai depicts the city’s dramatic transformation in a cheerful and uplifting monochrome.

The artwork was recently installed on a wall in the upscale Souk Al Bahar food court. This is an enlarged iteration of two canvases by the Emirati artist. The printed mural, which will remain in place for a year, marks the second time Lutfi’s works have been featured on the site, having also appeared when it opened in April 2021.

The left side of the mural depicts nostalgic aspects of the Dubai of yesteryear. Wind towers, or barajeel, an important architectural feature in the city’s history, decorate the skyline with mud-brick forts and looming watchtowers. Children play cricket, musical chairs and hopscotch. Some fish or set up toy sailboats on the creek. Still others are drawn into games of backgammon and tug of war, or ask their grandparents to tell them stories.

The right half of the fresco shows more contemporary facets of the city. People are looking at their phones and smiling ear to ear for selfies. There are parties of yachts and limos, while people bustle about on go-karts and water jetpacks.

Dialogue bubbles with Lutfi’s idiosyncratic comedy are abundant throughout the mural. On the left panel, grandmothers disapprove of being called grandmother, emphasizing “jadda”. On the right part, they ask not to be called jadda, but to be called grandma instead. Jet skis hover upright in the water, and one person comments on what a great day it is for the segway.

Both canvases, Lutfi says, were created years ago while working with Mawaheb, an art studio for determined people over the age of 18. The canvas in homage to old Dubai has since been sold, but since Lutfi still had images of the artwork, it was possible that it was incorporated into the mural.

“The artwork was made from my Mawaheb days. I have been with Mawaheb for more than 10 years,” he says. “I decided to open my own studio in 2020. The studio It’s called The Next Chapter and it’s in Tashkeel, Al Fahidi.”

The canvas reflecting contemporary Dubai is on display in Lutfi’s studio, alongside dozens of physical and digital works the artist has drawn in his cartoon style.

“It’s the present,” says Lutfi, pointing to the work. “Where children finally have technologies that allow them to chat on their phones, like Facebook and Instagram. The past shows children sitting with their grandmothers, listening to their stories and having fun with tea and coffee.

Lutfi’s distinct monochrome style was developed in direct response to her experiences as someone on the autism spectrum.

“I don’t usually use colors because they stress me out a bit,” he says. “Black and white was my favorite style for a long time. What I like is that it reminds me of a manga book and even some comics. Most people love my black and white art and ask me to draw them on bottles, handbags, iPhone cases, really anything. It’s just exploding. It makes me feel famous.

The left half of the mural shows nostalgic aspects of old Dubai.  Photo: Mohammad Adel Rashid / ITP Images

Famous is right. Over the past few years, Lutfi has been commissioned by a number of major companies and brands, including Emirates Airlines, Crate & Barrel, Converse, Amazon UAE, HSBC, Colgate and Special Olympics. His art is also on display at Dubai International Airport and was displayed during World Autism Awareness Day at Terra – the sustainability pavilion as part of Expo 2020 Dubai.

“My autism in black and white artwork is positive,” he says. “Not positive like in Covid-19 positive, but positive like me as a good person, showing who I am.”

Lutfi is also launching his own line of NFTs called Khalli Walli, a colloquial term roughly translating to “get lost” or “let go”. The collection includes 100 digital NFTs, 50 of which are digital as well as on canvas.

“They’re black and white and have fun quotes with ‘khalli walli’, like ‘khalli walli I can play video games whenever I want’ or ‘khalli walli I don’t want to throw it in the box’. “

Abdulla Lutfi launches a collection of NFTs inspired by the colloquial term

Lutfi credits Gulshan Kavarana for helping him develop and sustain his creative output. His artistic mentor since his days in Mawaheb, Kavarana says art has encouraged Lutfi to adopt certain life skills, go to business meetings and travel the world for art events. More recently, Lutfi traveled to Washington DC, USA to perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival with over 80 other artists from the United Arab Emirates.

“Art makes him work on life skills,” Kavarana says. “Just like when we went to DC, it wasn’t just about going to DC and doing art there. He had to learn to travel alone, use Ubers, go to movies, etc. Now he has become really famous and there is a lot of demand for his works.

Kavarana has worked as an artistic mentor with Lutfi since 2010, when the artist joined Mawaheb at the age of 18.

“When he came along, he was just copying stuff, doing manga and didn’t want to change that,” she says. “I told him it would be plagiarism and he couldn’t keep doing it. I asked him to tap into his Emirati culture. His first drawing was the cutest Emirati figure you can think of, then we started developing it.

Lutfi will launch 100 digital NFTs, including 50 on canvas as well.  Photo: Abdulla Lutfi

Even after more than a decade of working with Lutfi, Kavarana says she is still amazed and impressed by the way Lutfi thinks and works.

“He doesn’t even realize how talented he is,” she said. “He can draw anything under the sun and nothing stops him. Right now he is just famous in the UAE but the world will know him. It is an honor to work alongside him. »

Sandy Hayek, co-CEO of Time Out Market, said featuring Lutfi’s work on the venue’s mural was a no-brainer.

“Abdulla Lutfi is an outstanding artist from the United Arab Emirates whom we and many others greatly admire,” said Hayek. “He is incredibly talented, hardworking and dedicated – literally there is nothing holding him back – which is why he is now widely recognized and his art on display all over the UAE.

“We are very proud to show his art at Time Out Market Dubai for the second time with this new mural on display for a year. It is a mural that truly amazes visitors with its detail, signifying the importance of Dubai’s roots, as well as how far it has come.

The mural, adds Hayek, is part of Time Out Market’s initiative to showcase UAE talent. This is what gives the Dubai branch its edge, setting it apart from other Time Out Markets around the world.

“We change the mural every year, but we also have various other art pop-ups and cultural experiences in the market throughout the year,” she says.

Hayek says the work has been positively received by visitors to the market and has become an integral feature of the place.

“Its distinct and compelling black and white drawings inspire viewers to take a closer look at the humorous glimpses of everyday life in the Emirates – it is simply a very engaging piece or art. Locals who visit us have told us how point they loved to look at all the details of the mural which reflects their hometown so well and visitors who come to the city and our market told us that it was an exciting work of art to experience the history of Dubai.

Scroll through images of Abdulla’s Eid collaboration with Amazon underneath

Updated: September 04, 2022, 04:35

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