Dubai Canvas 3D Art Award 2017: a new dimension for art in the city

From 1-7 March, Dubai’s City Walk will be brought to life by three-dimensional street art, on display for the third edition of the Dubai Canvas 3D Art Award. Katie Boucher speaks exclusively to some of the exhibiting artists 

To visit Dubai’s City Walk during the first week of March is to be dazed, and perhaps slightly confused; not just by the view of the Burj Khalifa rearing up just over the way from the precinct’s shiny new shops and restaurants; but also by the collection of 3D artworks that will be on display there for the third edition of the Dubai Canvas 3D Art Award (previously known as the Dubai Canvas 3D Art Festival). 

This niche but increasingly popular street art form is a master of eye trickery. A deep chasm that drops into a rocky ravine is really just some cleverly painted pavement slabs. A path that leads into a dense jungle would, in reality, slam you straight into a brick wall. And a tightrope strung across an improbably large games board is a lot less perilous than it looks, given that anyone who tries to walk it won’t actually leave the ground. Such is the skill of the 25 artists from around the world who will be creating their ‘three-dimensional’ artworks here for the public to enjoy. Not only that, but they will be competing for substantial cash prizes (totalling Dh2.3m / US$650,000) – the biggest in the world for this type of art – and the first time creative excellence in this field has been recognised. 

The aim of the award is two-fold, says Ayesha bin Kalli, Dubai Canvas’ project manager at Brand Dubai, who are organising the event: to make Dubai a global hub for 3D art, and to help nurture the home-grown scene. “We already have an art community in Dubai,” says Bin Kalli, “but by doing this we can enhance the street art community. We want Dubai to be a 3D street art destination.”

Emerging local artists will be able to shadow some of the biggest names in 3D art, including Qi Xinghua from China, Fanakapan from London and Leon Keer from The Netherlands. “We want them to be inspired by this and want to learn this art form," says Bin Kalli. “We provide opportunities during the festival for them to get to know those international artists and paint with them, shadow them, converse with them and see how they work. So that one day we will have an artist from Dubai who will show their work internationally.”

Previous years saw the festival take place on the beach in front of Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) (2015), and then in JBR itself (2016). Why the shift in backdrop? “We want to find locations that suit street art and that give it an opportunity to change its canvas,” says Bin Kalli. 

Participants were invited to apply online with their proposed artwork centred on the 2017 award’s theme of ‘happiness’. A selection committee then whittled down the entrants to 25, several of whom have attended the festival before. Those participants will spend a week before the event opens creating their artworks in City Walk. 

“The difference between normal street art and 3D art,” says Bin Kalli, “is that 3D art is very much interactive. And at Brand Dubai we like to create an experience for people. So when artists create these 3D art pieces that look like they are coming to life, people interact with them in different ways. Everyone wants to take the most creative picture, or a crazy picture with their family or their friends. Some people even come to the festival more than once because they feel they didn’t take the right angle of a certain piece.” 

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Eduardo Kobra's work brings life and colour to Dubai's City Walk

Meet the Artists – and their Artworks

Qi Xinghua (China)

“As the only Chinese artist I feel obligated to build a cultural bridge between China and Dubai. So, I chose a Chinese panda and Dubai falcon to interact with you. The protagonist is a camel, because both China and Dubai have camels.”

Nikolaj Arndt (Russia)

“I decided to create a picture which depicts a happy family on a background of the beautiful city of Dubai. It seems to me that the memories of the happy moments that we experience, together with their loved ones, are the main wealth of our lives. My painting depicts photo albums which contains these happy moments.”

Vera Bugatti (Italy)

“My artworks are born from contemporary social issues and from ontological ideas on humans and humanity so often they are quite sad, like reality itself. That’s why I thought of the most magic kind of happiness I felt in creating dreams and surrealistic ways to escape from reality. My artwork will be that: a hope for a peaceful world, a wish to get back stolen childhood.” 

Odeith (Portugal)

“It simulates two windows from the old Dubai to Dubai nowadays, where you will see an old plane, as if travelling from the past to the future.”

John Pugh (US)

“I'm creating an illusion of an ancient arched portal that leads into a hidden place in the ruins where nature is re-asserting itself. There, behind a little shoreline, you will find a community of small creatures in the flora.”

Leon Keer (Netherlands)

“In my art I often envision looking through the eyes of a child. As a child you engage with everything differently, often without any judgement or reflections, which is contrasted with how we see life as adults. I try to symbolise this contrast by balancing in between; using toy related images in my art combining with the social discomfort in life.”