Arts: Camp Watch

So art galleries in the region have, more or less, closed for the summer. Does that mean the entire art community here is quietly slipping into hibernation? Far from it! You see, for a city that’s fast developing multiple art hubs and integrating them into the international scene, all cannot go entirely quiet in the art world. As summer camps kick to life in their dozens around the country, it’s clear the art-centric ones are not to be left behind.

By Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Fri 24 Jul 2009, 9:09 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

Finding the Dubai Drums summer class being held at Al Noor Centre isn’t too difficult. As founder Julie-Ann Odell instructs: just follow the sound of the beat! Seated in a semi-circle with an African djembe drum each, the children’s buzz of excitement as they ready themselves before the session grows with intensity until they’re positively clamouring and Julie-Ann has to call for silence. She leads them through fast-paced African chants — which they echo with equal gusto, each hammering their drums with palms or sticks until she brings them to a perfectly synchronised halt.

“If you think about it,” she says, “Africa, is where it all started — sitting around the camp fire with drums. The reason I chose to learn the African drums is because it’s something that can be done collectively as a group. I want the children to go away realising we’re all a community and that what we can do together is far greater than what we can do alone.” To facilitate this understanding, Julie-Ann has the children pretend they’re part of an African village — a great excuse to increase the fun even more, to say the least. And yet, that’s not all this energetic group does to stay upbeat. Following the exuberant drumming session, they split into groups with peers their own age. In the painting class, seven-year-old Helene from Washington DC wastes no time using long colourful brush strokes to write the words ‘Don’t feed animals bad stuff’ across her paper. “I’ve seen people feed gorillas crisps at the zoo. They’ll die and become extinct and then we won’t have any more animals in the zoo,” she explains, with all the seriousness of a park ranger.

Opposite her, Texas-born Jordan, five, won’t tell anyone what the squiggles on her paper and the words ‘Don’t touch this, it’s poison!’ mean. “You have to guess!” she squeals to Julie-Ann, before finally relenting. “It’s a snake. I almost got bitten by one when I was two but my cousin saw it coming and saved my life!” she gushes, breathlessly. Interesting how even youngsters draw on memories embedded in their subconscious when it comes to self-expression. The older children were busy excercising their creative and caring side by putting on a puppet show for their parents and special needs children at the centre.

Rows of easels line one of the many rooms at the Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre (DUCTAC) while activities ranging from glass painting to card making have their place in the room adjacent. Clearly, the annual art summer camp (entering its fourth week now) is in full swing. But downstairs at the pottery class is where the action really seems to be taking place!

The youngest batch of the camp was busy going potty with their clay. About 17 little pairs of hands work in earnest, moulding the wet clay around plastic cups, shaping and sponging them to ensure smooth surfaces before stenciling their names onto the base of the cups. The wooden makeshift shelves propped up at the far end of the room holds scores of fired and finished products to be taken home — miniature trophies of a job well done. The assignment laid out for the 11 to 14-year-olds — to create a plaque, plate or picture frame — was sure to garner equally imaginative results. Tongue out in concentration, one worked diligently on a heart-themed slab of clay as others also endeavoured to put their innovative prowess to the test. Patiently, tutor Sahar moved amongst them, stopping to help each one and answering each of their queries or calls of “Look, ma’am!” through patient demonstration. Creativity is encouraged, even demanded. Sahar raises a quizzical brow at one student’s progress. With narrowed eyes and a shrewd smile, she inquires, “Just one ‘K’ in the middle? Don’t even think about it! You’ve got to design it.” Her students are obviously more than familiar with the working lingo of their trade as terms like ‘slipping’ and ‘scoring’ are thrown across the room with ease.

Sisters Lucy, 11, and Isabella Sinclair, 13, do “pretty much everything together”. Dressed in matching blue summer camp tees and denim jeans, they’re attending camp for the first time. “We just love being creative, really, which is why we joined,” says Isabella, speaking for her sister, too. “It’s different from school — and a lot more fun! At least here we don’t have to follow set rules and schedules. And though it may look difficult, pottery isn’t hard to learn at all.” Both sisters were incorporating hearts inscribed with each other’s names — as well as that of their housemaid, who was departing that day — and flowers onto their clay plaques. Looking around at the many grubby pairs of hands caked with clay, you get the impression this is a class better suited to those less concerned about getting their hands dirty or chipping a nail.

Camps, as Julie-Ann says, are all about empowerment, whether artistically, rhythmically or personally. So whether it’s cake decoration, DJ workshops, knitting or fabric painting — in Dubai, you can easily decide which skill you’d like to pick up this time, or indeed, just how to camp the summer away.

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