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Edward Hopper's Middle East Peace

Edward Hopper would have painted Dubai. Yes, the light and structures lend themselves to the sharply lit geometry of his work. But it’s more about relationships.

The emirate—which mainly extends a narrow strip 15-plus miles in length with two distinct urban centers, one commercial, one residential—traverses as well from the ancient to the contemporary, from Istanbul to Las Vegas. It does so as much architecturally as culturally and socioeconomically.

Hopper painted a post-Depression, pre-World War II America—one that was moving quickly into the modern age. When not focused on the sober structures and landscapes that defined an America trying to comprehend its new place in the world, he displayed how people grappled with the interpersonal issues within it all—at the theatre, at restaurants, at home, or just taking in the sun.

His subjects were contemplative, rarely making eye contact, with each other or the viewer. To me they look like they’re suffering from a hangover, one induced by the highs and lows of a society moving too fast, of keeping up with expectations.  

As I sat with the sun worshipers on the Leisure Deck of the new Bonnington Hotel in Jumeirah, I recognized similarities in scenes and emotions. Dubai is dealing with a post-financial crisis world, while its visitors and residents still bask in the awkward glories of the idea of what Dubai is supposed to be—all amidst a rapidly changing Middle East.

From my seat I noted a host of nationalities, starkly lit people tentative in their presence. The Europeans on vacation. The Asians conducting business. The Indians working for a better life. And all were interchanging these roles as well. Each deeply internalized with their own purpose. The paradox was that while I felt disconnected from the individuals around me, I had never felt more a part of the world at large.

Hopper would have seen this and conveyed it in oils: everyone looking to each other for how to define themselves, but no one looking at each other to see that we're all up to the same thing—just making our way in a world whose ceaseless pace is what connects us all.

Amidst all our methods of communications, there may still be a place for painting yet, and it is in Dubai. 

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