Dhai Dubai pays tribute to resilient women from desert regions worldwide


Dhai Dubai, the first-ever Emirati-led light art festival, is in full swing at Expo City Dubai until February 4. Organised by Expo City Dubai, in partnership with AGB Creative and Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, the event has created a buzz within UAE’s art circles and garnered attention from local and international media, focusing on Emirati artists’ talent and artworks.
Among the highlights of Dhai Dubai is a spectacular series of immersive light projections titled “Sisters of the Desert”, which has transformed Al Wasl Plaza’s iconic dome into a vibrant, larger-than-life canvas. The show is inspired by the work of the late Dhabia Juma Lamlah, an Emirati artist celebrated for embodying Dubai’s perseverance and resilience through symbols of nature and intergenerational stories.
Unable to use her right hand or communicate through speech due to a medical condition, Dhabia turned instead to art to express her innermost feelings and overcame adversity to create more than 200 artworks over a decade. Fittingly, Dhabia’s work overlooks a striking installation by her son, acclaimed Emirati artist Mattar bin Lahej, titled “Movement of Stillness”.
“Sisters of the Desert” also features artworks by women from other desert regions worldwide, including Rene Kulitja from Australia and Dr Esther Mahlangu from South Africa.
“When we saw the patterns in Dhabia’s work, we instantly recognised similarities with other artists in desert regions worldwide,” said co-curator Amna Abulhoul, Executive Creative Director of Entertainment and Experiences at Expo City Dubai.
“I had just returned from Australia, where I was immersed in beautiful indigenous art, and the parallels were striking. The tribal, geometric patterns and the symbols fill the page from corner to corner, and the many vivid colours. I thought, ‘What if Al Wasl Plaza brought together several such artists as sisters?’ Thus, the ‘Sisters of the Desert’ was born.”
Co-curator Anthony Bastic AM, Executive Creative Director and CEO at AGB Creative, said, “Sisters of the Desert encapsulates the spirit of Dhai Dubai as a place that celebrates the light that lives within all of us. We believe that when people come together, no matter where they are from, each of our lights glows a little brighter. Despite coming from such different backgrounds, with their unique experiences, stories, and perspectives, these women are united in their resilience and strength. Together, their works take on a life of their own through this wonderful display.”
The five-minute installation features four works, starting with a starry night and a sandstorm to reveal the first piece by Dhabia, before moving on to Kulitja and Dr. Mahlangu, and ending once again with Dhabia.
Commenting on her participation, Kulitja said, “I am very happy to be a part of this for the first time with the other women from desert areas. I am happy to share my story so that people can look at my art from around the world and see and learn about our Tjukupa (creation stories) from Australia.” The installation is designed to make visitors feel like they are standing within the heart of a sand jar, as the inner walls of the dome fill from the oculus downwards with a projection of sand that transforms into lively colours, and the sound of shifting granules fills the air. The touching projections also feature a grand reveal of Dhabia’s distinct signature, which reads “Allah Kareem” (God is generous).

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