Al Fahidi, previously known as Bastakiya, is one of the heritage areas built along Dubai’s creek, where the first settlements of Dubai were built. It was named after Bastak, a province in southern Iran, from where merchants emigrated on the invitation of the Emir of Dubai in the early 20th century to avoid taxation by the Iranian state (see essay).
From 2005 onwards a restauration campaign was initiated under the supervision of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, to turn the area into a tourist attraction. It is especially known for its famous wind towers (to provide cooling in the pre-electricity era), the narrow winding roads cut off to traffic, and houses built in the old style, with small rooms around multiple courtyards. It is at a short walking distance from Al Fahidi Fort, which houses the (rather bland, folkloric) Dubai Museum, and which provided the neighborhood’s new name.
It was chosen as setting for side events of Art Dubai from its first edition in 2007. The yearly Sikka art fair is the most significant artistic event taking place in Al Fahidi. The artistic programming here was first seen as the edgier counterpart to the city’s more commercial art sector, with rooftop parties, DJs etc. But little by little Al Fahidi acquired a more institutional and serious, educational character. It has now mainly become a place to nurture young Emirati artistic talent.
The area currently holds offices and facilities such as
- Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (this is the office open to the public; the main office is in DIFC)
- Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding, one of Dubai’s most active promoters of cultural exchange, knowledge and awareness.
- Art Connection. An office for art consulting, working mostly on the public-private interface and institutional development.
- Taskheel. The studio’s, exhibition space and art facilities of Tashkeel are in the much larger complex of Tashkeel in Nad Al Sheba. In Bastakiya is a dependence with small studios and more public art oriented activities.
- Majlis gallery. Purportedly the oldest gallery in Dubai, having been established in 1989 by an expat lady ‘gone native’. It represents the famous Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais and a spade of lesser known European artists.
- XVA art cafe/boutique hotel. This was the original location of XVA gallery, which then moved to the DIFC , but now as of the end of 2013, is back. The XVA Gallery was set up in 2003 by Mona Hauser and became one of the driving forces of Dubai’s art world in the late 2000s. Artists represented are mostly from the Middle East and Iran, and include Simeen Farhat, the Dutch Iraqi Halim Al Karim, who regularly resides there, and Walid Siti. The hotel section is a boutique hotel and art cafe constructed among several courtyards; it is chockful of art, sells art books and design objects, and has a small exhibition space.
- Orient guesthouse. An upper range boutique hotel.
- Bastakia Nights restaurant, a Pakistani restaurant with fine cuisine overlooking the creek.
- …and more
Plans for the future of Al Fahidi historic neighborhood are unclear. There is some dissatisfaction with the current use of the area, which seems not to live up to its potential. The tourist character of the cultural heritage village seems in conflict with its contemporary art vocation, except during the Dubai Art Week. The institutional flavor of Al Fahidi makes it seem a bit sleepy generally.
- The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – Open Calls as of March 2015
- Some of the first favourites at Art Dubai.
- Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi to be the curator of the UAE Venice Biennale 2015 pavillion
- First edition of the Gulf Music Festival at the Archive, Dubai
- And an interesting question mark from Isabelle van den Eynde