Al Hai: A magical portal of bright lights and art

Al Hai: A magical portal of bright lights and art

The streets of Downtown Dubai have been magically brought to life by a series of stunning illuminations that take residents and visitors on an enthralling journey of light and discovery as part of Dubai Shopping Festival’s (DSF) Al Hai project in partnership with Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and Emaar.

Featuring immersive, innovative and sustainable art installations that were four months in the making, Al Hai is electrifying the buzzing Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, opposite the Address Downtown hotel, through specially installed lights and clever use of shadows.

Al Hai was officially inaugurated by H.E. Helal Al Marri, Director General Dubai Tourism / Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), and H.E. Hala Badri, Director General Dubai Culture. The concept was born out of an idea shared by DFRE and Dubai Culture to create a standalone lighting project at one of Dubai’s landmark destinations, and during one of its biggest annual events.

Commenting on Dubai Culture’s participation in this initiative, Shaima Rashed Al Suwaidi, Director of Marketing & Corporate Communication, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Arts & Literature Sector at Dubai Culture, said:

“Dubai Lights is an innovative event that aligns with the aspirations of our inspiring leadership and reflects the keenness of Dubai Culture to collaborate with various government and private agencies to enrich the cultural and aesthetic scene of our emirate.”

Al Hai is inspired by the urban layout and domestic landmarks that mark Emirati neighbourhoods that would be highlighted through a spatial play of light lines forming boundaries that would outline the essence of domestic and architectural events visually and metaphorically.

The project’s concept embraces a deep-rooted longing to hold onto the rich heritage and history of Emirati homes, traditions and culture, even as Dubai strives for greater advances in modern life and adopts the latest technologies.

DSF is known for its continuing support of local businesses and the city’s retail sector, and Al Hai represents a new, exciting and creative direction to strongly feature the work of emerging artists and incorporate contemporary and Emirati cultural activities into the festival’s already impressive lineup.

The art installation guides visitors using light and darkness, inviting them to cross a series of visual and implied boundaries before exploring new sights and features as they stroll down the bustling street.

As the first collaborative lighting display project of its kind between DFRE, Dubai Culture and Emaar, seven leading UAE-based creatives, among them emerging Emirati talent, were tasked with producing the lighting structure to be displayed during the cool winter period.

Al Suwaidi added:

“This collaboration also aligns with one of the sectoral pillars of our updated strategic roadmap to support young, local talents and motivate them to progress upon their journey. Dubai Culture opened the door for the creative community to communicate with government entities, and the Authority acted as the link between emerging artists who created distinctive artistic installations in this neighbourhood and the organiser of the event, providing them with an innovative platform to showcase their talents and produce unique designs that blend art with light.”

Al Hai was conceptualized and designed by Rowdah Alsayegh, Yara Manla, Raghad Al Ali, Fatima Alawadhi, Eman Al Rahma along with Ahmed Geaissa and Abdullah Khouri. The group, who specialise in multimedia design, photography, architecture, and product design, combined their various talents for the project.

The seven individuals, who were chosen specifically because of their impressive and diverse multidisciplinary skills as well extensive involvement in Dubai’s art scene, came together and began laying the foundations for the project at the newly renovated Al Safa Art & Design Library which is located in Al Safa, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods and a unique setting that helped to inspire their work.

Overcoming the restrictions posed by COVID 19 to discuss ideas and create as a unified group, each member contributed their own unique skills and flair as the team devised and implemented a dynamic artistic experience that transitions the visitor across Downtown Dubai through a series of light installations.

Al Hai comprises six elements that complete the traditional Emirati neighbourhood scene, including: a Sikka alleyway, a Majlis, a Masjid, a Hewee (or courtyard), a Baqala local store, and a Saha playground game.

These six elements are interpreted in different ways:

● Sikka: An alleyway connecting houses within a traditional Emirati neighbourhood. The light installation translates the Sikka experience into a pathway marked by light-reflecting birds placed on top of light rods.
● Majlis: An essential room in every Emirati house where family, friends and guests gather around a central coffee table. The installation highlights the main elements of the majlis such as the coffee table, cups and seating cushions.
● Masjid: The mosque where people of the neighbourhood gather to pray. The light installation consists of arches that represent a mihrab, indicating the direction of the Qibla. The layering arches also decrease in scale to symbolizing a spiritual passage.
● Hewee: The traditional Emirati courtyard, this is considered the heart of the house. This gathering space lies within a defined boundary, overtaken by the Ghaf tree as its main point of focus. The light installation suspends birds figures, colourful lights and swings from the tree to represent various activities that would take place around it.
● Baqala: A one-stop-shop where members of the neighbourhood of all ages acquire their necessities. The light installation utilizes layered panels with hanging lights that represent shelves and bottles to create the illusion of a baqala.
● Saha: A playground game that exists between Emirati homes and sikkas. The light installation places several games as a background to the neighbourhood on the other side of the boulevard making it the perfect backdrop to capture images.

The Al Hai project was initiated as the result of a thought process that examined the need for greater sustainability and recycling, both issues the world is becoming increasingly more aware of as the importance of a zero-waste existence that cuts out excessiveness came to the forefront during the pandemic.

A fully sustainable project, Al Hai uses recycled and repurposed lights from previous Dubai Shopping Festivals; the lighting used in Al Hewee is from old palm tree lighting which was distributed across the city, while the birds used in Al Hewee and Al Sikka are also part of old DSF structures and installations.

Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), said:

“Al Hai is a wonderful and intriguing addition to the packed lineup of entertainment and activities on offer throughout this edition of DSF. The artistic project truly captures the essence and unique nature of the traditional Emirati neighbourhoods that can be found across Dubai by inviting visitors to explore their unmistakable landmarks and architectural features through the highly innovative use of immersive lighting techniques.

Al Hai’s light creations will be instantly familiar to long-time Dubai residents and also welcoming to visitors who will be able to stroll through an entire neighbourhood just by following the different installations in place along Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard.”

Al Hai’s lights will be switched on at sunset each evening until 30 January. Al Hai is one of a number of events taking place during DSF, which is organised by Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE). Something not to be missed at the dawn of an exciting new year, Al Hai is free to visit.

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