Graffiti is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Dubai.
When you stroll among the desert city’s skyscrapers or drive along its ever-changing roads, there is little street art to be seen, aside from the occasional hastily scrawled musing.
But, if you meander down the alleyways of the beachside suburb of Jumeirah, visit the warehouses in the industrial al-Quoz area, Dubai Festival City’s car parks, or the streets of the bustling Karama neighbourhood, you’re likely to come across a scattering of dynamic walls of work.
There are Matisse-esque two-headed green women, playful bows with antlers, and expanses of elegant Arabic calligraphy painstakingly painted over splashes of colour.
More surprising than the pieces themselves is that female artists created many of them.
Less surprising is that the street art is not a free-for-all but must be confined to approved public spaces.
Tarsila Schubert: ‘Street art on a non-approved wall is removed after a few days.’ Photograph: Tariq Zaidi
“It’s really difficult to get a permanent wall in Dubai and any street art on a non-approved wall is removed after a few days,” says Tarsila Schubert, a 27-year-old Brazilian street artist.
“There are a few walls with permanent works on them, though.”
Dubai-born street artist Fathima, 31 – who has also painted in the UK and Canada – agrees, but adds that she finds the emirate’s scene “weird”.