An aesthetic portrayal of the city of Dubai, its past, its present and its rising horizons.
Dubai exists in millions of dreams hence it is a city real and illusionary at once. It is real because anyone could see it there as the crown of the United Arab Emirates, attracting people from all over the world not only as professionals but also as tourists, investors and settlers. The city nation is equally illusionary because Dubai is not the same for everyone. For the migrant workers it is a city of golden opportunities, for an investor it is a city of possibilities of business expansion and for a shopper it is a heaven of glittering consumerism. What impress anyone about Dubai are its phenomenal growth and its decisive move towards modern-western liberalism while keeping its traditional life styles and laws intact. Nowhere in the world one would see a benevolent monarch, personally attending the phone calls of the people as he has given away his exclusive number to the people of his city nation. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the supreme monarch of Dubai and the Crown Prince, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, while facilitating the world economy to converge there in Dubai, live without the paraphernalia of absolute Monarchs.
It is not surprising to see that when artist Ravinder Dutt attended an art residency program hosted by Gallery Ragini in Dubai, he fell for the charm of the Monarch and of course for the captivating magic of the city nation which has been constantly evolving by absorbing the best of developments in the world to its schemes of growth. Old nations remember their pasts; the new nations reminisce their own imagined pasts as well as the collective pasts of all the other nations in the world. As an artist who has been exploring the history of cities and expressing his findings through the re-imagined and re-aligned cartographical renderings, Ravinder Dutt found Dubai as a fertile land where his explorations could yield convincing results, during his sojourn in the city. It is this potential of his that initiated Gallery Ragini to encourage him to create a body of works on Dubai. By incorporating the spontaneous acts of remembering and the deliberation of reminiscences Ravinder Dutt, in these suite of digital works takes the position of a visiting cartographer who approaches the given city and its history with a sense of appreciation yet with clinical detachment. Here is a nation before him that seeks its own history in the new age of technology and in him there is an artist who traces the trajectories through which the history has embedded itself there.
The Dubai suite of Ravinder Dutt is poetic and romantic to certain extent and guided by a deep nostalgia he hovers over the city and sees all what are emblematic to Dubai; but he is a cautious artist too for Ravinder does not want to see Dubai as a ‘shining surface’ with ‘amply lit high rise buildings like Burj Khalifa’ where the binaries and chaos of the world dissolve and submit to a larger sense of law, order and economics, and everything becomes a huge backdrop for the solipsistic selfies. William Wordsworth, the British Romantic poet had transported his self to the clouds so that he could see the daffodils down there blooming like a golden carpet. Going by the Arabian myths and folklores, the narrator, here the artist Ravider himself identifies (like he poet) with the Emir and travels by a magic carpet and sees the world of his making. Here the Emir is seen as a divine maker as well as a godly surveyor. The Monarch sees how a desert country has transformed into a nation where gold is harvested from the sand with his vision and the hard work of his own subjects including the migrant workers.
The interest of the cartographer in Ravinder helps him to view everything through a land surveying device (here his own gaze) and in the work titled ‘Xeno Souq’ he celebrates the distinction of Dubai as a trade centre in the ancient times that, in the absence of a reserve bank of its own, displayed the cosmopolitanism of commerce of its own kind by accepting all the currencies from abroad in its market. This fluidity of economy comes from strong self confidence and a universal outlook, especially seen against the present context where countries dissociate from the economic conglomerations to protect their own currency. Ravinder hails this economic
history of Dubai by portraying the national emblem of Falcons flying in progression, holding various currencies from the world. The symbols of industry, trade and global maritime explorations function as an adequate backdrop to the work. At the same time, Ravinder understands that Dubai is not just about crass commerce; its success also owes a lot to its religiosity and spirituality. Without giving way for any sort of fundamentalist streaks to creep into the general religious consciousness of the country, Dubai opens itself as the hub of the international Islamic pilgrimage to the shrines spread all over the emirates. Ravinder emulates the scheme of framing the holy shrines of the Muslims in Indian Muslim households and business establishments, highlighting his own religious tolerance. Dubai as a hub of world cultures is again a thing of focus for Ravinder. In two of his works, he visually combines the cosmopolitanism of Dubai in adopting not only the technological developments of the world vis a vis city planning, communication and architecture but also in accepting various languages and literatures, and in creating avenues for the practice and promotion of various kinds of sports. Dubai does not hold itself back to the ancient times when the Arabs played camel races, sword fight and camel polo, on the contrary it has accepted all the major pool games, board and field games including billiards, golf, tennis and cricket. Ravinder highlights these two cultural aspects in his works by carefully placing the scenes and annals in frames that are familiar to Dubai’s high culture. The artist also brings in the Arabic decorative patterns to give his works an ethnic feeling. The sojourn in Dubai has left a very sweet taste in the artist’s mouth; his memories of the city are replete with good incidents of which he gives foremost value to the Emirates Airlines that treats the kings and pauper alike on board. In a futuristic machine that resembles an ancient model of a flying ship is a celebration of the Emirates Airlines. The history of education and public culture of Dubai is captured effectively in a work where the artist shows three Emirs from different generations and are paralleled with the functions that they have attended. Between their portraits and ceremonial photographs, Ravinder has aesthetically placed a diagrammatic picture of an old typewriter that types out the names of places which are meant to have established for cultural growth.
In the history of the Arab Emirates and particularly in the history of Dubai, one cannot forget the presence of camels and horses. In a work that resembles a coat of arms graced with the flying colours of the emirates Ravinder portrays different camels in their different postures and attires, together they look like the beads in a rosary or embellishment of a regal plaque. However, the real tribute of the artist to the people of Dubai not only the natives but also the people from all over the world who have found a future and home there, is an intriguing work where one sees the transformation of a horse image into the map of the United Arab Emirates. According to the artist, horse is a symbol of Arab power and when a graphic representation of the animal is pressed against a paper for a long time, like other graphic prints it leaves an impression on the other page which exactly resembles the map of the UAE. The accidental revelation, according to the artist, is a happy accident like many prophetic revelations. With a small installation Ravinder completes his Dubai suite where he presents a spiritual square/cube with thousands of keys casting shadows, as if they were the keys to the eternal secret of life, of the religions and definitely of the enigmatic city of Dubai.
Cartographer of a Magic Land
Solo Show of recent works by Ravinder Dutt
Venue- DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Dated – 12th to 18th November, 2016