GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Negotiating Dubai\'s Cultural Identity: an Excavation of Meaning in the City\'s Notorious Projects
Paper Proposal Text :
“Dubai, like a billionaire child star is overzealous in its attempts at identity development,” wrote Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili in Bidoun. “Everything there is competing with the uber symbols of the world and with each other to be the best, the biggest, to be that very image one would choose to put on the postcard” (Alexi-Meskhishvili 60) Such critiques of superficiality are not new to Dubai, in fact they shape the most common narrative revolving around the city’s identity, or as some assume, the lack-there-of. On it’s journey to build a metropolis that would fulfill its aspirations of becoming a “world-class” city, Dubai has had to grapple with the trying challenge of carving out an identity for itself. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Dubai has had to shuffle between two worlds, that of a capitalist ultramodern variation and that of an Arab, Islamic conservatism. Upon closer consideration, the city, through its ever-changing visual spectrum, holds many a conflicting meaning, setting the stage for an ongoing continuous project of identity negotiation. “Its allure lies in its ability to adjust rapidly, in its complexity, in its contradictions” (George Katodrytis 42) Truly a city of captivating contrasts, Dubai is at once, a habitat for global cultures to co-exist in the imported “global cities” in a single space, a regional vanguard safeguarding the heritage sites of Arabia by way of obsessive reconstruction and a “global” player, breaking records to buy itself a ticket on an international landscape. Dubai presents, “a fascinating testbed for the creation of an urban society.” as Arjen Ooseterman questions in Al Manakh, “What does it take? What does it produce? Is it locally specific or basically international? Is it different from the models we’ve seen elsewhere?” (Oosterman 322-23) Punctuated by the utterances of its leadership, which often serve as the guidelines for its construction, contemplating unannounced inferences and implicit meaning, the work at hand explores how meanings of Orientalism, identity, cultural politics and Eurocentrism are embedded in the projects of Dubai. “When you talk about Dubai, you\'re either a champion or an assailant; you will never be taken as a fair critic.” (Todd Reisz) In an exploration of Dubai’s landmark projects, concepts of how the notion of a “New Middle East” is created are explored, interrogated and deconstructed. The work at hand attempts to explore implicit meaning, political tensions, value propositions in Dubai’s negotiation of its cultural identity analyzing projects under three categories, tropes rather. The first trope is that which explores Dubai’s ‘world-of-worlds’ notion in which it engages in the compulsive ‘import’ of other cultures, worlds and sometimes civilizations to its borders. This phenomenon is deconstructed through an analysis of the meaning behind projects in which this notion has served as the basis such as Ibn Battuta Mall, Global Village and Wafi City. The second trope explores a uniquely Dubai aesthetic, which the city has so strongly embraced that it can rightly claim to call it its own: The Hyrbid Orient. This visual style, found in projects like The Old Town and Khan Al Murjan, is an amalgamation of various architectural and design elements from across the so-called Orient spans Marrakesh to Baghdad combined and utilized in single projects and developments with the promise of delivering to the onlooker and the visitor alike, an “authentic Arabian experience” much like that promised by the 1001 Nights. The third and final trope explores the projects that were either born or conceptualized during the Dubai heydays of the mid 2000s, by deconstructing some of the city’s record-breaking ultramodern mega structures like Burj Al Arab, the Dubai Mall and The Palm Jumeirah. “Visiting cultural critics have tended to fall back on Orientalist notions and apply a neo-colonial critique that hinders any depth of understanding. In Dubai, many Western critics appear baffled, unable to make sense of the city’s development, precisely because they attempt to judge it against spatial products, development and realities in their respective home countries.” (Markus Miessen 135) By exploring the defining elements of the projects, which now serve as bold, sometimes jarring, effigies of Dubai’s visual environment, the work at hand attempts to develop a more complicated understanding of the city caught in sometime of an identity crisis, struggling to find a confident and fully formed position on a global playground.