While growing up, structures inside Palestinian artist Dima Srouji’s home, like the staircase and bathtub were doubled up as bomb shelters. Families used to gather there, trying to distract themselves from the horrors of war.

Now, she has brought an art installation to Dubai to tell her story and provide residents a place to gather and mourn.

Titled This Is Not Your Grave, the installation is part of Alserkal Arts Foundation’s public art commission and is made up of three shelters — Hearth, Library, Sanctuary.

“Each installation evokes the memory of architectural spaces that we used as physical shelters during times of crisis, based on my childhood experience,” said Dima.

“These spaces made us feel safe not because they were architecturally sound, but because they were spaces where we would gather as a family, have meals together, and distract ourselves reading Harry Potter, for example.”

Gathering in grief

Apart from telling her own story, Dima wants to provide an outlet for UAE residents.

“The three commissions are designed for the Palestinian diaspora in Dubai and for communities of struggle to gather together in grief and mourning,” she said. “For others, those who are lucky enough to be in Dubai by choice and not by forced displacement, can use the space to experience what it might be like to occupy a compressed space similar in scale to the shelters often used, but also in celebration of the communities of solidarity Dubai has nurtured.”

Dima said the installations are not so much about the structural capacity for it to act as a shelter, but more about creating space, and transforming an environment from the site of trauma to a space of decompression and security.

“The shelters demonstrate how architecture can be employed to pass time together,” she said. “What was clear to me was that there was a hunger here for the diaspora coming from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen and so on, to have spaces where they could gather and to celebrate architecture in a way that didn’t feel like architecture was failing them.”


According to Dima, the installation is an open invite to visitors to interact with the spaces.

“In the Library, we have placed a few books, inviting people to sit and read,” she said. “We also invite people to bring more books that they think will be relevant for the space.”

Hearth is an immediate space for gathering where people are encouraged to enjoy their lunch.

Sanctuary is meant as a space of meditation, for the visitors to take a moment to think about the context of today. “We have carpeted it, and it is facing the direction of Ka’abah, so it can be used for prayers as well.”

Dima says the intent of the design is one thing but the way community uses it may be different. However, her message remains the same — it is one of resilience and making the best use of life’s opportunities.

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