Jaddaf Playscape commission: a playground for everyone

The winning proposal for the inaugural Jaddaf Playscape Commission for Dubai Public Art is a playground for all ages from the UAE-based design collective Theories of Imagination (TOFI) – artist-architect Noor Alwan and artist-designer Abdulla Buhijji.

Due to open to the public in the Autumn in the Jaddaf Waterfront Sculpture Park next to the Jameel and named I Dreamt of a City Everyone Calls Home, the TOFI installation is described by the arts centre as “an adventure playground that encourages play and imagination for all ages … a whimsical space for collective dreaming”. Taking design cues from the wider Jaddaf area, it combines vernacular architectural patterns, fauna and flora with novel imaginative shapes and formats. Says the Jameel: “Through paying homage to the history of Jaddaf as a crossroad of cultures, the playground becomes a celebration of the diverse communities that have shaped Dubai, drawing inspiration from the area’s historical significance as a boatyard and its role in enabling trade and cross-cultural exchange”.

TOFI’s own statement backs up this view. “Witnessing the growth of the area over the past few years, we feel blessed to be a part of the city through bringing its people together.

“Our concept strives to create a space that fosters inclusivity and creativity; a space that’s inviting, enticing and engaging for all ages of all walks of life. We love the notion of parents using the same play elements with their kids rather than watching from afar, teenagers who can embrace the cool in play, children with different abilities who can explore play with other senses, adults who can join in on the fun in less active ways – there’s something for everyone there.

“We strongly believe in the impact that urban play can leave on cities and our need for these playful informal spaces; a playground at the heart of Jaddaf and next to Jameel Art Centre was a dream brief for us. The concept is dear to our hearts and we cannot wait to see it come together, leaving the impact we think it will.”

TOFI develops “fantasised works of art and creative spatial perspectives rooted in cultural insights and research” and “explores topics like the link between the self and the other, individuals and their environments, place belonging, and identity and memories across time”. As independent artists, Alwan and Buhijji have shown widely across the region and in Europe; as TOFI, they have received commissions from Misk Art Institute, Bahrain International Airport, Bahrain Pavilion for the Dubai Expo 2020 and Riyadh Art for Noor Riyadh festival.

The Jaddaf Playscape Commission is intended to be in the park for four years.

The Jaddaf Playscape Open Call in February attracted nearly 100 applications from artists and designers across the UAE. The selection jury included some big names – Cecilia Alemani, director and chief curator of the Highline NYC and curator of the 59th Venice Biennale of Art 2022; Wael Al Awar, founder and principal architect of waiwai, responsible for the UAE’s Golden Lion winner at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2021; Amal Khalaf, the Serpentine Gallery’s projects curator and director of Cubbit Gallery, London; and Nora Razian, deputy director and head of exhibitions at Art Jameel.

While selecting TOFI as the winner, the jury gave Special Mentions to three shortlisted proposals “in recognition of their originality and bold vision”. Congratulations go to Carla Baz, Evan Collisson, and the artist-designer pairing of Jumairy and Lina Younes.

The Commission, devised and curated by Art Jameel, is part of Dubai Culture’s recently announced Dubai Public Art initiative, a multi-year project aimed at the creation and installation of public art by UAE-based artists around the city. Art Jameel is a curatorial partner, along with Art Dubai, Tashkeel, Alserkal and Akaas Visual Arts. Art Dubai’s commission should have been announced in June, Alserkal’s open call has just closed.

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