Building a glass pyramid in the middle of a city probably sounded like a good idea at one point, fifteen years ago, but the appeal of Ancient Egypt in New Dubai has since worn off, and for the most part, Wafi Mall sits quietly except for the occasional happening event.
Little do most people know is that there are some neat things going on at Wafi. One such gem lies in its pan-Arabian souk, Khan Murjan. In the open-air, old-charm restaurant, one man has turned dinner and shisha into an art session.
He’s Oliver, Dubai’s very own freelance artist.
He hangs around the Khan Murjan restaurant from 3pm onwards everyday, accompanying restaurant-goers’ meals with portraits and caricatures. It’s a full-time job for Oliver, who has to commute from Jumeirah, where he spends his mornings sketching breakfasters at Reem al Bawadi.
For Oliver, drawing is a full-time job. It’s how he keeps himself from being evicted from his humble Silicon Oasis flat – no drawings, no money.
But he’s not worried. Prospects are good in Dubai, and after having left his home in Beirut, Lebanon nine years ago, he’s never looked back.
He was a budding artist then, having just received his masters degree in Fine Arts.
“It was a Saturday [when I got my degree],” he recalled.
Four days later, war broke out, and Oliver fled. He escaped to Qatar, where visas for the Lebanese were easily granted, but the country wasn’t for him, and one year later, he landed in Dubai.
He still reminisces about life back home, his childhood and the family he left behind — and of the year he spent drawing portraits in nightclubs, which produced a particularly unique line of work inspired by the drink-fueled, hyped-up chaos.
People are drunk. And there’s is no light. So I would try to capture what I could– a little bit of their cheeks, a little bit of their noses, hair.
The result was, to put it lightly, a racy conglomeration of facial features and body parts – something Oliver concentrated on for his graduate studies.
It wasn’t all fun and games. Things were beginning to grow tense the days leading up to the war; life in Beirut became unpredictable, particularly after dark. Recalling the night gunmen began shooting in the club he was working at, Oliver said that,
In Dubai, life is much better. There’s stability.
“The political pollution has ruined the lives of the Lebanese people,” he explained. “There is no bright future for anyone in Lebanon. If you live there, you fall down [the ladder] without even realizing it.”
Laughing, he added that for all its stability, when compared to the nightlife back in Lebanon, Dubai’s scene is about as temperate as a “school.”
If clubbing in Dubai is like school, then drawing is a lot like work:
To be an artist here, you need spare time and money to do your own thing. You don’t have this privilege to do whatever you want to do. Here, art is a job.
A job Oliver said he enjoys, but even then, he faces hurdles:
“It’s psychological. You have to be in a good mood, but even then, you ask yourself, are people happy with what I drew? How can I persuade those that aren’t?”
As a full-time artist, Oliver has to draw regularly to get by, but he can still decide his own hours and prices, which he said depended on his “energy” and “mood.” Catching the caricaturist on a particularly a good day could have its perks.
You can see his work here.
Why not head head down to have an old-school, modern day portrait made of you by the talented Oliver. What do you think of his work? Tell us in the comments below.