The Great Walls of Dubai

13 September 2016

Meet the eight Malaysian artists who transformed a district in Dubai into a kaleidoscope of colour and surrealism.

To many people, Dubai appears to be an urban forest, full of gleaming skyscrapers and concrete buildings. But this past Ramadhan, the monotony of concrete and steel was interrupted with a visual turnaround in the residential district of Karama. The district is home to some apartment buildings, a few low-rise commercial lots, and the 41-year-old Karama Shopping Complex. On the walls of this complex are a series of amazing murals created by eight Malaysian street artists, better known publicly as @ItsPokeTwo, @medeaprojekt, @sored_one, @yumzone_, @katun_, @newba, @abdulrashade and @pakey_one.

According to Syafiq Wazer, also known as @sored_one, Karama had become the go-to spot if you wanted to bargain and acquire cheap goods. However, it was not truly tourist-friendly. The developer, Wasl Properties wanted to turn things around and bring new life to the district; they contacted two Dubai-based Malaysian artists - @ItsPokeTwo and @newba - who got in touch with other members in their circle. Wasl Properties liked their work and even flew them down for the project.

According to @sored_one: “There’s not much of challenge during the process of coming up with ideas because the clients already had a clear vision and they gave me very direct instructions on how the wall would look like so it was easy for me to create it.”

Every artist involved in the project had a different style and forte. Some excelled in lettering and typography. Others’ strengths lay in realism or should we say, the absence of it. This suited the developers just fine.

And while fasting in the sweltering heat, these eight Malaysians worked tirelessly for a month.

@sored_one, who specialises in lettering and graffiti, painted an abstract print of amorphic splats as well as two rather funky guitars with some lettering. @ItsPokeTwo merged the Wasl Properties logo with his flair for calligraphy and painted a typical scene in Dubai on the wall next to it. From our perspective, the scene lets passers-by in on the joke as what is depicted is not unlike what’s on the streets of Karama.

The scenes are lifelike. Whimsical. Phantasmagorical, even. On one wall, a parrot painted by @yumzone_ and @katun, is in mid-flight. On another, the Dubai skyline is depicted in sepia tones (a collaboration by @newba and the others). An underwater scene by @pakey_one shows a fearsome great white shark with its jaws wide open, as if headed right at the viewer. Another scene, reminiscent of the movie Up shows a station wagon coasting along the skies, borne by dozens of balloons.

This project follows the Dubai Walls initiative where 16 international street artists were commissioned to create murals and other forms of street art at an open-air shopping mall.

In Malaysia, street art’s popularity has only increased in recent years, in part thanks to Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic whose murals in Georgetown, Penang have gained fame internationally. And there are several lesser known but just as beautiful pieces in Ipoh, Kuching, Melaka, and Johor Bahru, many of which were created by international artists for local companies and initiatives. Last year, Petronas’s #tanahairku project gave rise to six murals created by Malaysian artists in Kuala Lumpur.

As @sored_one puts it, “It might not be as many or as hyped as in overseas, but again this kind of project needs a lot of resources from money, time, planning and people’s involvement in it.” @ItsPokeTwo concurs, “Now there are a lot of big companies who give opportunities to local artists to do big murals.” Street art will continue to exist in Malaysia. As proven by the Karama project, Ernesto Zacharevic’s Georgetown murals, and other projects, the creation of more murals rests on the demand and support from local organisations.


By Zoe Liew

Photos courtesy of Muhriz Murad, medeaprojekt and Syafiq Wazer

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