The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Comes to Jameel Arts Centre

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (29 January-13 February) is launching its 2021 season this weekend with a specially curated collection of literary themed events, many with an art and design influence, at Jameel Arts Centre, Al Jaddaf, Dubai (29-30 January).

The programme features a host of live appearances, performances, tours, workshops, exhibitions and children’s activities, with many sessions free to attend.


The events mark the first of three weekends, with the Festival continuing at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City (4-6 February) and Alserkal Avenue (12-13 February).


Jameel Arts Centre will be kicking off the festival with a programme that includes emerging and established authors, poets and designers, with sessions in Arabic and English against the backdrop of Jameel Arts Centre’s sculpture park. Outdoor talks and panel discussions will be free, with online booking to reserve a space. Fees apply for workshops, which must be booked in advance at Prospective visitors can explore the programme, register for free events and book tickets via the dedicated Jameel Arts Centre Festival page.


The schedule includes Walking Talks by curator Shumon Basar through his co-curated mega-exhibition ‘Age of You’, and librarian and collector David Hirsch, who will lead a discussion through the Library Circles display of Arabic comic books, graphic novels and manga practices dating from 1956 to the present day. Curator-led tours of the Jameel Arts Centre will take place in Arabic and English throughout the weekend (register via the Jameel Arts Centre website).


Festival Programme

Taking to the amphitheatre stage will be the 2020 Booker-nominated novelist Avni Doshi, giving an insight into her influences and the extraordinary success of her debut novel, Burnt Sugar. Following her success with The Baghdad Clock, Shahad AlRawi is back with a new book, Over the Republic Bridge, a story of true love over three generations in Baghdad, exploring topics of hope, nostalgia, love and friendship.


Also at Jameel Arts Centre will be the ingenious and avant-garde Irma Boom, talking about her life and work, sharing the stage with the founder of Fikra Design Studio, Salem Al Qassimi. Described as ‘The Queen of Books’, Boom’s bold experimental approach in creating over 300 books resulted in her becoming the youngest recipient of the Gutenberg Prize, with a selection of her books held in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York. Irma will also be giving a not-to-be missed workshop, demonstrating her architectural approach to the art of book design.


Children’s workshops will include a fun filled session for children aged 6-8 with Emirati author and illustrator Maitha Al Khayat, and an art and mindfulness workshop with Stephanie Robert and Jojo Chappell.


Wordplay and art will be juggled in the workshop by poet Danabelle Gutierrez, who will show how to create a poem based on an artwork on display at Jameel Arts Centre. Danabelle will also combine conversation with performance in a lively evening session. Artist and writer Simar Halwany will share the story of silent books and their rise to popularity, as she shows workshop participants how to develop their own books using multiple illustrative techniques. Writers needing a kickstart to get their ideas on to the page, or who are half-way through their novel but have run out of steam, will benefit from Annabel Kantaria’s ‘Novel-Writing Trouble-Shooter Workshop’ looking at how to fix common blocks in structure, pacing, plot and character. There is also influencer and stylist, Hafsa Lodi, author of Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, who will lead a masterclass to show how to take ideas and build a digital space that will keep readers coming back for more.


Multi-disciplinary designer and Arabic calligraphy artist Hussein Alazaat the host of ‘The Beautiful Books Trove’, will be in conversation with Camil Karam of YaHala Studio Archive, tracing the history of 1970s progressive Arabic children’s publishing through the legacy of the combined artists, designers and writers, including the UAE’s Majed Magazine. To accompany the discussion, a selection of rare comics from the archives will be on display at Jameel Library from January 28-31. Fans of the artform can also join Hussein Alazaat in his interactive workshop showing how to design Arabic book covers, with final designs on display for the duration of the Festival at Jameel Arts Centre.


Saturday evening will feature poetic inspiration from some of Dubai’s finest performers: Shamma Al Bastaki, Sarah Almehairi and Arthur de Oliveira, and a discussion on the importance of small presses with indie publishers the JARA Collective, moderated by writer Saira Ansari from Sharjah Art Foundation.


Literary-themed exhibitions at Jameel Arts Centre

Age of You is an exhibition about how technology is changing us, how we are changing society, and what it means to be an individual today. Curated by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist, this groundbreaking, timely exhibition poses the question ‘What if the future is dictated by the unintended consequences of who you are?’. The exhibition previews a forthcoming book by Basar/Coupland/Obrist, The Extreme Self. and includes over 70 visual contributors from the worlds of art, design, filmmaking, photography, performance and electronic music.

Comics from across the Arab world, from the 1950s to the present day will be on a display in an exhibition of David Hirsch’s acquisitions across his 34 years as a librarian and an avid collector, mapping out comic book, graphic novel and manga practices across the Arab world.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature will continue with the big middle weekend at the Festival’s home, the InterContinental Dubai Festival City (4-6 February) and Alserkal Avenue (12-13 February). Featured authors include Nobel prize winner Malala, Elif Shafak, Amin Maalouf and Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer). Alserkal Avenue will welcome acclaimed Egyptian writer Ahmed Mourad and a closing event with the vibrant performance poets Lemn Sissay, Afra Atiq, and award-winning Palestinian actor and writer Dana Dajani.


Many sessions will be inspired by the 2021 Festival theme, ‘Change the Story’, capturing the spirit of the current times through family fun, enlightening and entertaining talks, fresh ideas and dynamic performances centred on books, art, science, current affairs, film and food.


Due to social distancing, there will be fewer tickets available, so early booking is recommended. Tickets will be required for each event, including free sessions, to ensure visitor number restrictions are adhered to. Many sessions will also be livestreamed for those who are unable to attend or miss out on tickets.


Ticket prices for the big Festival weekend at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City start at AED 60 for adult sessions, AED 40 for children’s sessions, and AED 100 for a digital pass to watch live-streamed sessions from home. A minimum of 10 top sessions will be streamed live.


The Festival will be fully compliant with all Covid-19 prevention regulations and guidelines from the Dubai Health Authorities, including social distancing measures across all three venues and mandatory masks. See full details on the Emirates LitFest website.


You can also tune in to the Foundation’s two podcasts; the Best of the Emirates LitFest, and the Boundless Book Club.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Comes to Jameel Arts Centre