Dubai: How Emirati artist was inspired to create during the pandemic

Dubai - Hind Mezaina sheds light on an unseen city in her first solo exhibition.


Purva Grover

Published: Mon 31 May 2021, 9:17 AM

An Emirati artist, writer, film curator, blogger and podcaster, Hind Mezaina is known for delving into the collective memory and the notion of heritage and media representation of Dubai and the UAE. Her first solo exhibition, Wonder Land, is the outcome of her year-long research and work as part of Tashkeel’s 2020 Critical Practice Programme. We learn how she had first set out to focus on a decade of personal practice and concepts unresolved over recent years, but changed course to explore the impact of the pandemic on her hometown of Dubai.

Using photography and film, she documents the pandemic pause where fast-paced Dubai — evident in its hectic highways, frenetic construction and populated streets — ground to a halt. From the blank highway billboards and hidden pedestrian paths to obsolete public phone booths, she considers the translation of imagery through its materiality and size. During the self-directed programme, she was mentored by curator and photographic consultant Peggy Sue Amison and received studio support, training and critique from Tashkeel to strengthen her contemporary visual arts practice.

She is a graduate of the 2015–2016 Salama Emerging Artist Fellowship (SEAF) and was selected for A.i.R Dubai 2015, a partnership between Delfina Foundation, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and Tashkeel.

Lisa Ball-Lechgar, Deputy Director, Tashkeel, says, “We are thrilled to begin our 2021 Summer Season with Hind Mezaina’s reflection on Dubai in these unprecedented times. Hind took the travel restrictions last year as an opportunity to explore her home city and remove herself from the often-stifling familiarity that sets in when you live in a place for so long and adopt almost third-person objectivity towards it. The extraordinary consequences of the pandemic – social, economic and industrial – exposed the city as an abandoned fairground, allowing her to bring to the fore unnoticed elements of its fabric, indicative of an environment in flux.”

Hind has curated film screenings for local institutions including Louvre Abu Dhabi and Sharjah Art Foundation. Her work is also part of the collection of UAE Unlimited and Sharjah Art Foundation. We discover more about Hind’s artist journey, the inspiration behind Wonder Land, and more in a conversation with the artist herself.

How and why did you decide to title your exhibition, Wonder Land?

The title came to me closer to the date of the exhibition, I was walking by the area where the old Wonderland theme park used to be, and noticed it is now surrounded by new hoardings, with renderings of a new project also called Wonderland, but it looks more like a high-end luxury development. It made me think of the constant change in the city and I thought the title Wonder Land would be suitable as an exhibition title, and the name of this photo series.

Throw some light on the homework that made Wonder Land happen.

Wonder Land was the result of lots of long drives and walks in Dubai during 2020-2021. The photos I took were of things that caught my attention and a reflection of a mood of a city during a pandemic.

What’s the role of analogue photography in the times of mobile cameras and selfies?

Analogue photography allows you to be more thoughtful about what photos you want to take, what images you want to make. It’s a slower process, which I feel isn’t appreciated enough because we’re made to believe anything that is delivered faster or anything with immediate results is better.

Tell us a little about your early inspirations, the days when you were starting out as an artist.

I suppose Dubai has always been my inspiration, my photography is mostly about this place and a lot of what I think and wrote about when I get the chance is about here too.

Under a pandemic lens, as you view life, what do you see?

The pandemic has brought attention to more inequalities, economically and socially, and the rich are getting richer, especially the big tech companies, and so many services have been digitised replacing humans and creating job losses. So it’s hard to think of positives, but I am thankful the pandemic was contained better here, and that the vaccinations are easily available to everyone — compared to many other cities.

How was your experience of associating with an art institution like Tashkeel?

Tashkeel is a great space for artists to make works, exchange ideas; to be supported by the Critical Practice Program at this stage of my career as an artist has been very beneficial.

Do you predict more such spaces emerge in the city?

We’ve sadly not seen a huge rise of more places set up in Dubai and across the UAE. We surely need more spaces across the country, to counteract the commercial art spaces, especially in Dubai.

In the era of OTT platforms and Instagram stories, how does an artist make a mark?

Artists who think of their work as “content” are not really artists, in my opinion, they’re another cog in the content economy machine, posting for likes and shares, and selling. To create something to stand out takes time and effort, and feeling pressured to posting and sharing online constantly is time and effort taken away from thinking about making work that is meaningful and long-lasting.

Tips for artists wanting to debut their solo exhibition

*A first solo exhibition can be exciting and stressful. I think artists always feel nervous whenever they show any new works, but it’s important to be surrounded by people

(curators, artists, writers etc.) whom you trust and respect to be able to talk about/show the works in progress; it helps to have these conversations to get feedback to the final versions of what they want to show.

*Don’t rush into anything, or try to do too much in a short time.

*Many artists leave the logistics to the very end, but it would be useful to think about these things along the way. Depending on the medium, it’s important to think about scale, how to hang/exhibit. What materials will be needed, are they easily available or do you need to order them and the time needed to get them delivered.


Wonder Land explores Hind’s renewed understanding of Dubai gained over last year, presented through analogue photography and film, that brings to the foreground nuances and unnoticed elements of the city. The exhibition is accompanied by a printed catalogue featuring contributions by prominent figures including the architect and writer Todd Reisz, and PhD candidate at the University of Oxford Rana AlMutawa.

At: Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba 1, Dubai until July 6, 10 am-10 pm daily, except Fridays, and admission is free.

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