What does the word ‘Dubai’ evoke for you? 

Dubai is a city of gold both literally – we love covering everything in gold – and figuratively. Not to romanticize too much, but Dubai is a city where anyone and everyone can become whatever they want to be. However, with access and excess, this means that sometimes people go a tiny bit overboard with vanity, and unfortunately outsiders might view this as the real Dubai. But it is not. 

The real Dubai is the conversation between two strangers as they leave the metro station, one on their way to an authentic family-owned Indonesian restaurant in Deira or a trendy cafe in Jumeirah, the other going to the family home that they share with their partner and kids, parents, and maybe grandparents, after a long day at work. It’s about people from all backgrounds – social and economic – living together with respect and integrity. 

Your first memory in Dubai?

I grew up in Jumeirah, so a lot of my memories revolve around the beach – running on Jumeirah’s white sand, jumping headfirst into the water, collecting shells, and running after seagulls.

Where do you feel most at home in Dubai?

I’m pretty attached to Jumeirah. It’s home. Every corner, every street, every grain of sand. I find myself driving along Jumeirah Beach Road when I need to recharge or need some ‘me time.’ Jumairy loves Jumeirah.

But there’s also the Dubai Mall. My favorite pastime is dressing up to walk around the mall. You put on one of your favorite most extravagant outfits, shower in perfume and oud, and go roam around. It’s the equivalent of being a Victorian-era debutante: coming out into society and everyone wondering who and what you are. Everyone is a celebrity in the Dubai Mall. Although it’s not home, it is a great venue for this kind of make-believe ball or fashion show.

What is the mark of a true ‘Dubaian’?

Someone who is accepting of others, tolerant, and compassionate. Dubai, like any metropolitan city, has people from all backgrounds. Understanding everyone’s lives and challenges, and showing humility and compassion are what make a true Dubaian.

Which famous figure best embodies Dubai?

The person who we really cannot forget is His Highness, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. He was very forward thinking for his time, from building Port Rashid to establishing the Jebel Ali port and trade center.

Your favorite place for breakfast? 

Haha! Listen, if there’s anything I can cook, it is breakfast. It’s my favorite meal or combination of dishes to make – I have a signature omelet. However, if I’m not making breakfast, I like to order from Mama’esh, one of my favorite Palestinian eateries in the city; they make some of the best hummus in town. I also really love the Green Fields sandwich from Pekoe, and if you’re looking for a flavorful breakfast, let’s not forget about Raju Omlet. 

Where are the best boutiques? 

This is difficult to answer because I usually buy directly from my favorite local designers. But if I had to choose one, I’d say Closet Case in the Dubai Mall; they carry a lot of my favorite designers like Rick Owens, Heliot Emil, Junya Watanabe, and Yohji Yamamoto. I also have to give a shout out to Alia bin Omair jewelry. I own a custom necklace from them engraved with my Hijri year of birth and I wear it every single day no matter my outfit. 

Which artwork best represents Dubai?

Speaking about my own work, I think I would say Luciferin Shores (2023). The piece speaks about our connection to nature and more specifically the aftereffects of human interventions in nature and the loss of natural phenomena (this is seen, for example, in the construction of the Palm Islands). With this artwork I was trying to recreate Jumeirah’s bioluminescent shores, which I remember from growing up.

I also think one of the most important exhibitions that represented Dubai was ‘Crude’, curated by Murtaza Vali at the Jameel Arts Center in 2018. It is one of my favorite exhibitions that’s been held in the region. It was truly beautiful, introspective, futuristic, and critical at the same time.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever heard or seen on the streets of Dubai?

In Jumeirah there are these twins, Hassan and Hussein Al Muhairi, who always dress in the same colored kandura (male national dress) with the same exact cap and who you can always spot in the same exact places: from a certain table at a cafe in front of the escalator at Mercato Shopping Mall; to a specific area of Global Village; to a specific street they frequent to ‘exercise.’

As an artist, I’ve become so obsessed with them that I now only perform in a pair with another performer, usually someone who is the same height and we are dressed exactly alike. As someone who is also a twin (a fraternal twin, so no, we are not alike at all), I am fascinated by this desire to look and dress alike even in adulthood.

What can you do only in Dubai?

Dubai is one of the few cities in the world where you can go from swimming in a warm beach in the morning to skiing (indoors) in the afternoon to ending the night with a barbecue in the desert.

What do you miss most about Dubai when you are away?

The safety. We sometimes take it for granted, but I become hyperaware of this when I travel. Dubai is so safe that there’s a TikTok trend where people leave their wallets on random tables in the city for an hour or longer and no one touches their belongings.

Your best advice for those just visiting?

Do all the touristy things you want to do, but also take time to discover different pockets of the city. For example, get lost in Bur Dubai, especially the area surrounding the Dubai Museum. You can have lunch at Al Ustad Special Kabab or Sticky Rice, a Thai restaurant run by Emirati siblings and built for their Thai mother. You can also drive across the city to Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve and have a nice coffee break surrounded by nature, or visit the Ripe Market or Global Village and try to catch a concert by a local artist like Mehad Hamad or Ahlam. Lastly, but definitely not least, you should visit Al Quoz Creative Zone, Al Khayat Avenue, Alserkal Avenue, and so many other galleries and artist studios in the area. Also visit Etihad Museum and Union House, the birthplace of the United Arab Emirates.

Credits and captions

Caption for the full-bleed image: Astronaut's view of the artificial archipelagos in Dubai, 2010. Photograph by a member of the Expedition 22 crew.