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Walls. Not the sort that divide, but the ones that bring us together. Convergence.Expression. Street art.

That’s what Jalal Abuthina’s new book deals with. District 333 – beyond the surface, whispers the title. A municipality map of the approximate area adorns the otherwise plain white cover.

Al Badaa near Satwa, or District 333 in Dubai Municipality speak, is exceptional in many ways. It is one of the few places where the tides of time, culture, identity all intersect in a quietly seething mass that Jalal explores through a camera lens. But he doesn’t turn his lens on anything other than the sprayed and splayed idioms, pithiness, conjecture, invective, and political statements that adorn the walls and buildings. Graffiti.

To say that Jalal’s work is a photography project would be to miss the mark. It’s a project of stenography and observation. Of figuring out the youth culture that exists in District 333. Where the old rubs hairy shoulders mix with the new. Where Pakistani workers mix with the Filipina housemaids serving the newer villas. Where the Emiratis dress like R&B types and tag impatiently. Where the expat kids overcome their fear of deportation and express themselves using wall as canvas. Where it all comes together. And splits apart.

Jalal’s done a great job. The issue, if any, is with the quality of the graffiti. District 333: Beyond the Surface is a brilliant collection of Dubai street art. The fact that Dubai’s scrawls can’t hold many candles to a few of Beirut’s stencils under the bridge leading to the airport, much less London and NY, is not Jalal’s fault. We’re young, we’re growing. And observers like Jalal are doing us all a favour by letting us know what’s going on.

Find the book, buy it, and support a story-teller.