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Monday, February 24, 2020

A Piece of Arabia - For Keeps

by Julia Wheeler

Arabia Felix circa 1540. Other maps like J.N. Bellin's 'Carte de la Coste' were drawn around two hundred years later
Later maps reflect more accurately the geography of Arabia
One of the hand drawn limited edition print of tribal carpets

The human race has an obsession with knowing exactly where it is geographically, historically, personally and as a whole at any one time. It is not altogether a negative fascination and it is certainly not a surprising one. After all, with sentiments such as ‘History repeats itself,’ ‘What goes around comes around,’ and ‘Learn from your mistakes’ such common themes in so many languages, we are almost programmed to compare our situation to that of our predecessors. Although with the benefit of hindsight we might shy away from swapping places with our ancestors, we are keen to capture and keep hold of a small piece of their world – to anchor our own. If your grounding point includes any part of the Arab World, then there is a new location to lay anchor.

Dubai’s Creative Arts Centre in Jumeriah is recreating historical maps of the region. The framed prints are taken from original and exclusive drawings of maps. The new versions are beautifully reproduced and painstakingly enhanced by hand using a variety of techniques including watercolor, acrylic and pastel. The best quality antique finish, parchment-style paper is used for the prints, which ensures their durability.

It is the quality of these maps, which makes them different to those you may stumble across in many of the souks of Arabia. They have been hand picked from collections around the world, ensuring that they are both the genuine articles and of genuine interest to the purchaser.

“Of course, it is a gamble that someone will be interested in any one of the maps that we choose”, admits Lynda Shephard, the Director of the Creative Arts Centre. “But with experience in choosing high quality, authentic products and the instinct that begins to come with that experience, we can be reasonably sure that our choice will correspond to the sort of thing our client will choose.”

The maps cover Arabia as a whole with the earliest, ‘Arabia Felix’ (Fortunate Arabia) dating from around 1540, while others, like J.N. Bellin’s ‘Carte de la Coste d’Arabie’ being drawn around two hundred year or more later. From the very early maps based on woodcuts to the later, use of engravings on metal plates, every one sourced for use as a basis for reproduction is a genuine article.

Take the map drawn by the leading London map makers of the 19th Century, J. and F. Tallis, who specialized in producing atlases of all the main regions in the world. At the time of production, their map was considered to be one of the most accurate available, and it was one of the first to show Qatar.

Herman Moll published ‘Happy Arabia’ in 1712 as a part of the book ‘Complete Systems of Geography’. The title refers to the extremely lucrative frankincense trade across the region at that time.

As well as maps, the Centre also has reproductions of original drawings from this part of the world. They all have a flavour of Arabia, whether they are from the easels of the Orientalists in the 18th and early 19th centuries or the printing presses of the Illustrated London News and the London Geographic, slightly later.

One recent addition to the collection at the Creative Arts Centre is a set of hand-signed, limited edition prints based on the patterns of tribal carpets. Of interest to anyone who collects carpets, they originate from right around the region.

“There is an increasing awareness of this type of heritage in this part of the world,” says John Weigold, an antiques expert in Dubai. “The whole market for antiques in booming. In a modern world of mass produced items people love nostalgia – everyone needs something to remind them of the mystique and glamour of bygone days.”

Dubai has traded on its history of being a place for business at least from the time the first of these maps was drawn and it is this aspect, which provides the thrust of the Creative Arts Centre’s idea. It is honing in on one particular segment of the market, the corporate sector.

“Despite the creativity of so many companies in their own fields, there is a danger that some let themselves down when it comes to corporate gifts,” says Shephard.

A token of appreciation to a client should reflect the status of the person who is sending it. After all, mugs with logos can be relegated to the back of the corporate kitchen by mid-January; calendars on desks have become obscured by their larger counterparts and gimmicky calculators have surely had their day.

“These prints are perfect for the business market,” explains Shephard. “So often companies are struggling to think of a gift to give to their valued clients, especially with the festive season nearly upon us and this present provides the perfect answer.”

There is the choice of making an exclusive order, meaning only the company concerned has access to the prints made from the original, or alternatively firms can choose from a selection of other prints. The mounting and frames can be produced in the corporate colours of the company sending the gift and a logo can be printed on the back of the frame.

All this gives the gift particular advantage; it provides a welcome gift for the receivers as well as a high quality image of the giver. And when it is hung on the wall it ensures a subtle, long lasting and continual reminder of a business relationship.

These prints may have their origins firmly based in a time gone by, but they are right up to date with the needs of today’s Dubai. In times to come of course, they will be part of the heritage themselves and something to which our successors will no doubt to keen to anchor themselves. 

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