Dubai Landscapes

“Reflective Beauty”
Gulf News 20 Nov 2007

“A joyful celebration of the city’s lifeblood.”
Khaleej Times 12 June 2008

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Khaleej Times- City Times, Thursday, June 12, 2008

Niamh Cunningham’s artworks are a stunning evocation of life around Dubai creek

Vijay Dandige – contributor


She developed a special affinity for the creek of the city. She would wander down to the abra station from her BurDubai home and linger there, taking in the sights, colours and sounds of the place. She would hop onto an abra and cross the creek two or three times, along with the souk workers and other creek crossers. She was such a frequent presence that abra owners and souq vendors took to calling her “sister”.

But Niamh Cunningham was neither an ordinary abra- commuter not a camera –toting tourist. A painter of the city, she has immortalized the Dubai creek in a series of breathtaking evocative paintings. The smoke belching, chugging abras ferrying commuters from one bank to the other. The gentle ripples across the creek water. The melee of seagulls swooping down to devour crumbs thrown by a bystander. The soft evening light casting shadows across the buildings – a stunning sense of place and time. A joyful celebration of the city’s lifeblood.

Her rendering of the serene splendor of the Dubai Creek is currently on display at the Grosvenor House Hotel at Dubai Marina. Titled Al Khor and Beyond, the exhibition, from which continues till June 15, features about 20 big and 15 small canvases, containing the creek series as well as landscapes of the Emirates.

This is Cunningham’s second solo exhibition in Dubai. In November her first exhibition titled In Vivo- The Creek Series was showcased at Art Attack Gallery in Jumeirah. In reviewing her work, art critic Mohammed Al Jazairi said “ A journey between two shores is what is addressed in most works by Niamh Cunningham. Water is ever present and people are almost always crossing the creek. These two features give the work an existential and philosophical dimension. It is as if she is summarizing the philosophy of life by borrowing the framed, in more ways than one, scenery and somehow producing a metaphorical substitute about the trip where all passengers leave one shore to go to another. It is this shore, her subjects’ destiny, where the artist finds a safe and secure spot from where she can work and observe. What gives the paintings their allure is the skirting around fate rather than directly dealing with it. The journey, not the destination, the passage, not the arrival. A moment seized, opportunity awaits, expectation looms”

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Cunningham started painting in school where her teachers encouraged her to continue. But she didn’t take it up seriously until she came to Dubai five years ago, after staying in England, South Africa, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

She came to Dubai with her journalist husband and her son. “Dubai is a vibrant place. I have somehow found myself here. I know what I should do with my life and it is a valuable knowledge” she said.

She became fixated with the creek when she used to take her son there. “It reminded me of previous locations, I used to live in Hong Kong and I loved the harbor. Around Dubai Creek such a grand sense of life, far removed from the clinical malls. It just seemed such an authentic place” she said. “Also doing a series of paintings about something helps you learn about it, whether it’s the subject matter or the technique. And I’ve learnt quite a lot from that place.”

To get the sense of place, she said, she has set aside a day every week during winter to go down there. “Often I was not very productive at all and I would just walk and observe, noting things down. I often made verbal notes on visual scribbles, particularly if I didn’t bring my colour pencils” she explained. “There are times when the place looks purely magical. The creek is a vibrant place of life, an affirmative symbol of life. It is the magic of the place and particular moments that I have tried to capture.” Her landscapes in contrast, portray a sense of solitary expanse, some just touched by the narrative of progress.

Cunningham has also participated in public art projects of painted sculptures displayed about Dubai such as the Arabian Horse and Flight of the Falcons, projects organized by Artworks. She is also excited about certain new developments in the city. “I think the creek makes Dubai special. And now they are bringing waterways around the city. And I really look forward to working on those waterways,” she said.

She pointed out that this affinity for local area has had an impact on the rest of her life. “In this new era of environmental awareness I believe it helps me make better lifsstyle choices that are greener” she said. “I now need to find a way to help make this a little more accessible through my work”  She also has a big dream  to go off to the Amazon and paint there. “ I really need to grasp environmental issues in a useful way and I will strive to get there.”

Cunningham said she was glad that she became fascinated by the creek because it pulled her into this commitment to explore relationships with place and location. Painting gives me the opportunity to be sincere and put aside the cynicism of contemporary life” she said. “But I think maybe even a bigger reason is that when I’m working I have this knowledge that I am not wasting my time. It’s a simple and positive affirmation of what I do”.


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