When most peo­ple think of Dubai, they tend to pic­ture shop­ping and sky­scrapers. But on my first trip to the city, as the SAILOR JERRY rude boy, I find there’s a lot more to this bustling city than first meets the eye as I go all in.


What does Dubai’s cul­tural scene look like to an out­sider?

I’M HERE TO SAY HI FROM DUBAI, AND JUST LIKE SAILOR JERRY, I’m here to keep things run­ning smoothly. In the last twenty years it has gone from a lit­tle-known city on the edge of the Ara­bian Penin­sula to a bustling me­trop­o­lis known the world over for its am­bi­tion. It’s home to the world’s tallest build­ing, the world’s big­gest shop­ping mall, and has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a place where the lo­cals like to kick back in lux­ury.

I vis­ited Dubai to get un­der the skin and the cul­ture, be­neath the shiny sur­face lies an­other world. One that news cam­eras don’t often por­tray. It’s a city teem­ing with artis­tic life; an un­der­ground scene of like­minded cre­atives look­ing to make their own way in this world of glitz and glam­our. And that’s ex­actly why I went all in to ex­plore dur­ing my trip to Dubai. Ar­guably the best way to get to know what’s re­ally go­ing on is by talk­ing to a few cre­ative minds at the top of their fields in cul­ture, art, fash­ion and mu­sic, much like Nor­man ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins.

I chat­ted with the ed­i­tor in chief of Esquire, Matthew Bax­ter-priest who helped me un­der­stand the mov­ing cul­ture, “Dubai is a su­per in­ter­est­ing place to be. I grew up in sev­eral dif­fer­ent coun­tries and the first time I came to this city I im­me­di­ately felt it was one of the most hos­pitable places I had ex­pe­ri­enced. This place is a true melt­ing pot, where many dif­fer­ent cul­tures come to­gether to live life as one”. But what of the city’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as be­ing just full of sky­scrapers and shop­ping? “You know, Dubai cer­tainly has that rep­u­ta­tion,” says Bax­ter­priest, “and — in the most part — it’s true. But that’s not all it has go­ing for it. Over the last few years there has been a real boom in terms of art and cul­ture. Most re­cently, en­tire ar­eas of the city have been raised to cel­e­brate it; places like Dubai De­sign Dis­trict which is home to lo­cal fash­ion de­sign­ers and bou­tique stu­dios, and Al Serkal Av­enue — an or­ganic hub for the city’s art scene.”

I asked Bax­ter-priest what he thought was lead­ing this sud­den surge in artis­tic tal­ent. “It’s peo­ple. Peo­ple who ex­press them­selves. I think that many peo­ple out­side the re­gion look at this place as be­ing quite closed, and con­trolled. But be­ing here, that’s ab­so­lutely not the case. Cre­ativ­ity is flour­ish­ing here. And be­cause the city is so di­verse — in about twenty min­utes you can go from the fi­nan­cial dis­trict to an area full of art gal­leries and cof­fee shops — the world is re­ally start­ing to see the city flex its cre­ative mus­cles.”

There’s no bet­ter ex­am­ple of Dubai’s abil­ity to em­brace cul­ture than in the va­ri­ety of its cre­ative tal­ent. Maddy Butcher is a Dubai-based artist and is in­spired by world mu­sic and makes ab­stract mu­rals that end up on the side of some of the city’s tallest build­ings. I caught up with her mid­way through a very spe­cial project; a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween her and Sailor Jerry to cre­ate a piece of be­spoke art — and to ask about what drives her cre­ativ­ity.

“The in­flu­ence be­hind my work is this weird mix­ture of free­dom and con­straint,” says Butcher.

“I ac­tu­ally don’t think you can truly be free with­out lim­its, and that’s what re­ally drives my work.” Nor­man ‘Sailor Jerry’

Collins him­self was big on free­dom of ex­pres­sion; his work was known for its bold­ness and iconic, flash art­work. With con­straints on where they can paint, how

do you feel it af­fects your work? “You know, here in Dubai we’re not tech­ni­cally al­lowed to tag the sides of build­ings – it’s why I don’t call my­self a street artist – and that changes the way I think about my art. Am I still ex­press­ing my­self? Ab­so­lutely”.

Dubai is known for many dif­fer­ent things, but street art is not one of them. Butcher tells me, that’s be­cause the scene has yet to come out of its shell. “There is a huge un­der­ground move­ment in Dubai,” she ad­mits, “and it comes from a group of peo­ple who are less con­cerned with big com­mer­cial suc­cess, and more to­wards mak­ing what they want to make.”

Ac­cord­ing to Butcher, there are a few neigh­bour­hoods in Dubai she rec­om­mends. Satwa and Deira are two of the old­est parts of the city, and are teem­ing with in­di­vid­u­als from all cul­tures and walks of life. But there’s also newer ar­eas of the city, in­clud­ing one that puts sus­tain­abil­ity at its core; (which is why it’s called ‘Sus­tain­able City’). And there, hid­den be­neath a maze of eco-friendly build­ings and busi­nesses, is Wael, a fash­ion busi­ness built on be­ing cre­atively dif­fer­ent.

The founder of the busi­ness is Wael Hus­sain, who is known for pair­ing con­tem­po­rary tai­lor­ing with an un­con­ven­tional, stylish twist. Hus­sain’s fa­ther is also a tai­lor, but that didn’t stop him from shun­ning old­school ma­te­rial and meth­ods to cre­ate his very own thing. “I think grow­ing up here in Dubai played a huge part in who I am cre­atively,” says Hus­sain. “There are so many cul­tures and ways of do­ing things, that there was never a sin­gle path open to me. This place forces you to think out


“When­ever I paint, I like to rep­re­sent pos­i­tiv­ity. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s a por­trait or an ab­stract piece, I want it to be en­er­getic, and I want it to be some­thing that peo­ple can take good vibes from.that ties back into what Sailor Jerry was do­ing; big bright colours, bold lines and pos­i­tive feel­ings.”

of the box”.

Most re­cently, Hus­sain has drawn ac­co­lades for his line of bomber jack­ets. But they aren’t just reg­u­lar bomber jack­ets, he’s go­ing all in and craft­ing from left­over items of clients’ cloth­ing; an old suit or ripped pair of pants. It’s a great ex­am­ple of Hus­sain’s com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able fash­ion. “I love bomber jack­ets, be­cause it’s a re­ally ver­sa­tile piece of cloth­ing. You can play around with it in any num­ber of ways, and I love the fact that I can cre­ate these in­cred­i­bly unique pieces from old, un­used cloth­ing”.

Most peo­ple are un­aware that ‘Sailor Jerry’ started as an ap­parel brand, bring­ing the old school pinup style art­work of Nor­man ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins to life . A homage to when in­spi­ra­tional lo­gos and patches were stitched onto sailor’s jack­ets to in­ject a bit of per­son­al­ity into dull army and navy uni­forms. For Hus­sain, this makes per­fect sense, “I love that about the brand. Fash­ion is all about ex­press­ing your­self, who you re­ally are, and I don’t think there’s a bet­ter way to do that than by wear­ing a cus­tom­ized piece of cloth­ing that has a story be­hind it”.

With my brief time in Dubai com­ing to an end, there was an­other as­pect of the city’s mod­ern cul­ture that I wanted to un­der­stand: the mu­sic scene. From what I’d seen, if multi-cul­tur­al­ism re­ally is at the core of the city, then there’s no bet­ter ex­am­ple of that than Matt West, the sax-man! The Amer­i­can jazz mu­si­cian, uses Dubai as a base as he trav­els the world play­ing gigs, thanks to his ap­petite for mix­ing clas­sic jazz with con­tem­po­rary hip hop and R’N’B mu­sic, just like our boy Nor­man Collins trav­elled the world, con­nect­ing peo­ple through mu­sic.“the mu­sic scene out here is very wide stream,” says West. “There are a lot of lo­cal artists play­ing re­ally cool rock­in­fused Ara­bic mu­sic. There is a jazz scene here, a small one — I mean jazz is al­ways strug­gling a lit­tle bit, that’s part of the charm — but it’s there”.

If I needed to sum up my time here in Dubai, it would be to say that I was blown away by the pas­sion and cre­ativ­ity that I’ve seen.

Yes, the city might still be known more for its tow­er­ing sky­scrapers than its street artists, but as long as the cre­ative peo­ple here in Dubai con­tinue to go all in, that will — slowly but surely — change.

Dubai is known for lux­ury shop­ping, but the city has a rapid­ly­de­vel­op­ing street cul­ture

Mad­die Butcher is an aerosol artist who’s work is now more in de­mand than ever

Wael Hus­sain takes old cloth­ing and turns them into spec­tac­u­lar bomber jack­ets

A TRIB­UTE TO SAILOR JERRY Mad­die Butcher on her piece pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sailor Jerry:

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