Dubai: Nothing is perhaps more integral to the history of Dubai than the Dubai Creek. Although much water has flown under its bridges over the years, its appeal remains a constant.
In what is a refreshing take on the Creek’s old world charm, Martin Giesen, a UAE-based German watercolourist, is exhibiting his vast portfolio of works dedicated to the captivating waterfront, at the Majlis Gallery in the Al Fahidi historic neighbourhood next month.
Called ‘Seeking Al Seef’, the exhibition is a celebration of the Creek’s rich past, as much as it is about its seamless flow into the future.
“To me, the core of the khor (Creek) is the area of the wharf stretching from the foot of the Sheraton Hotel in Deira up to the Maktoum Bridge,” said Giesen, a “nostalgist” who has been painting sites in the UAE since 1998.
References to the Creek usually begin with the arrival of the Bani Yas tribe in the 1830s. “The pearl diving industry was the mainstay of the early UAE economy and it was from the Creek that the fleet of dhows would go out in summer (May) and return in September. It was in the 60s that the Rulers of Dubai started to expand the Creek to allow boats of larger tonnage to enter. This made the Creek a working port, which it remains till date.”
The founding dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Design at the University of Sharjah, Giesen’s pastiche of the Dubai Creek focuses not just on the busy dhows moored in the area, but also the dollies, narrow alleys and architecture of the neighbourhoods, besides the character of the communities they fostered.
Take the 2012 watercolour Bastakiya from the Air, one of Giesen’s 50 works on the Creek. He said: “The building rooftops are filled with implements of contemporary life, the service element of elevator shifts, AC units, satellite dishes and water tanks — distinct from the decorative façades, arcades, colonnades and window openings that we commonly knew.
“The Creek has always been a catalyst of economic activity in the UAE — whether it is the fishing boats with diminishing catches, the busy dhows that re-export goods to smaller ports, the abras that still ferry passengers for Dh1 or the grand old lady of cruise ships, QE2, that has been turned into a hotel further down.”
Alison Collins of the Majlis Gallery said: “Dubai Creek is where goods and people mingle with ships, where load and vessel intertwine in great visual confusion. The result is a great pictorial chaos that hides low-tech but fully functioning systems of a complex situation.”
She added: “The Creek is an example of an economic system that fosters commerce, engages in human dignity and tolerant diversity and presents to the world a microcosm of a sustainable lifestyle with remarkable efficiency.”
Seeking Al Seef, which is scheduled to open on November 24, will run till February 28, 2019.