A press release for the recent exhibition “Perceptions of Dubai” held at the Sofitel JBR describes it as “human and artistic exploration of a city in constant change”.
French photographer Isabelle Viallaneix and journalist Valerie Ward combined their talents to create an exhibition of twenty photographs. The result was an arresting display of images and text that not only captured the physical landscape of the city in quirky detail, but also touched on the human perspective.
The exhibition was part of DXB3, an initiative created by Viallaneix and Ward in an attempt to move away from the overworked images of skyscrapers, yachts and shopping malls usually employed to illustrate life in Dubai. They have described the project as an attempt to show the city’s true nature:
“We found aesthetic photography books. We were dazzled by the evolution of the city through coffee table books. Yet none of the books we read satisfied our curiosity, so we decided to create our own.”
Isabelle Viallaneix spent the early part of her career as an artist and textile designer in Paris. She has lived in Dubai for ten years and only recently turned to photography. She says "I love Dubai for its diversity and its vibrant energy; the fact it is a melting pot. I love the contrast its architecture has to offer - from the ultra-modern buildings to the tiny shops, barbers, restaurants.”
Her street photographs have their own peculiar beauty. One of the exhibition’s most celebrated images of hers was taken on The Walk at JBR: it shows a young man in traditional dress sitting beside a weathered “Welcome” sign, talking on a mobile phone. The image reminds us that for all its monumental buildings, Dubai’s success is built on small, human transactions such as this.
The Walk is typical of many retail areas in Dubai, where high profile international brands rub shoulders with local, individual retailers. It’s this vibrant diversity that attracted Viallaneix to the project and the exhibition was accompanied by entertaining notes about the city: its green landscapes (“Do you know there are more than 120 parks in Dubai?”) and its history and culture (“Do you know that for 4,000 years the inhabitants fished for a living and dived for pearls?”)
The exhibition’s aim was for visitors to discover “another Dubai”. Judging from the feedback received, the public loved the alternative vision of the city that they found at the Sofitel.
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