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Insider's view · Asia · united arab emirates · Abu Dhabi

Insider: Jessica Seraphim

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Insider: Jessica Seraphim

"Abu Dhabi belongs to everyone"

Jessica Seraphim is an artist who works with glass. She is French but grew up in Abu Dhabi. Even though her artwork - jewellery, interior design objects, etc. - are created in France, she nevertheless considers Abu Dhabi her second home...and one of her main sources of inspiration. "As my family and my heart is in UAE (United Arab Emirates), I often come back and participate in exhibitions or craft fairs." Seraphim had a solo exhibition in Abu Dhabi's Art Hub just this autumn, and she also recently opened a workshop there "in order to practice the fusing, spun glass, enameling or other fascinating techniques depending on the mood of the day...."

What do you love most about Abu Dhabi?
I love the fact that one weekend you can go shopping in the city, eat at good restaurants, catch a movie and have a drink and a shisha in a coffee shop, and on the next weekend you can go camping and stargazing in the desert (the red sand desert is my favourite) or go scuba diving in some pretty awesome sites. It's like having two lifestyles in the same place!

Is there anything you hate about Abu Dhabi?
Traffic jams...the 1.5 hours it takes to go from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is hard enough, but on top of that add the traffic and it can become a real nightmare!!! Even in the city, it can drive you nuts and a lot of people are reckless with their driving speed. Looking for a parking space can also take ages....

What are your most vivid memories about your childhood in Abu Dhabi?
Walking with my parents along the now "old" Corniche, which, by the way, is really beautiful now since it has been renovated. I used to race my sister from one strange fountain to the next, and our favourite was the huge Volcano, which doesn't exist anymore. Ice-skating on Family Day with music and lights, like a small floor show.
Visiting the Abu Dhabi souk where everything could be found: colourful spices, gold, knickknacks and gadgets for kids. Going to the desert for the weekend, barbecues at night, searching for shooting stars in the sky, exploring the wadis during daytime, swimming in the small natural pools of the oasis, counting the camels on the road, etc....

Describe your perfect day in the city....
You wake up and enjoy one of the many places you can have brunch (a late breakfast buffet in one of the amazing restaurants featuring a variety of food from all over the world), or a more quaint and cosy Lebanese coffee shop, or even just take a small menaich on the go (a sort of Middle Eastern sandwich with cheese, meat or a mixture of thyme and olive oil). Then you head to Heritage Village to have a nice start with history. Then you go to the beach and relax on the Corniche (or the new beach in Saadiyat) for a few hours or have a stroll in a cool shopping centre when the sun is still high and beaming down on the city. Then a brisk walk on the Corniche as the sun is setting and the freshness cools the city down. And then a shawarma (a wonderful Lebanese sandwich) and a fruit cocktail to end the day.

How do you characterise Abu Dhabi's current art scene?
I see that the art scene is in total evolution. Galleries are visited more often these days and the public is increasingly knowledgeable. Previously, people just wanted to buy art from abroad; now the local artists are given more opportunities and are proving up to the part, with a very specific "fusion" art evolving from the rich multicultural specificity of the UAE. Nowadays, there is a truly original "Abu Dhabi art" style available and art connoisseurs want to understand, discover, be surprised and be moved by it.

What should one definitely do to catch the vibe of Abu Dhabi in all its diversity?
I believe that to understand Abu Dhabi, you must first grasp its past as well as its incredible pace of development. I would suggest starting by visiting a few museums to learn how the city and the emirate is transforming and constantly evolving. In case you do not have the time for museums, at least look at a few pictures of Abu Dhabi from 1950, 1960, 1970, etc. I would then visit a shopping centre or just walk along the Corniche at sundown, where you can see people from all nationalities, all faiths, all backgrounds just enjoying the weather and walking by the sea with their families.
Just watch and be amazed -- this is what the new-generation artists integrate into their art. And then, discover the plan for the future: the vision of Abu Dhabi with the Louvre, the Guggenheim, Masdar City, the universities.... At the pace Abu Dhabi is evolving, this is not a faraway vision. It is tomorrow....

Could you name your favorite art galleries in Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi Art Hub in Mussafah, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Salwa Zeidan Gallery, Ghaf Art Gallery.

Could you name your five favourite restaurants/cafés in Abu Dhabi?
Lebanese Flower is the best Lebanese restaurant I have EVER been to, whether you want a big lunch/dinner with friends and eat a lot of different dishes or just want some tasty sandwiches to go (shawarmas are my favourite). Their fruit cocktails are simply art!!!
As an unassuming small family restaurant, the Red Castle is my favourite Chinese place. Its selection of dishes and flavours are really worth getting lost to find it!
Trader Vic's is my favorite Polynesian restaurant and I love the décor, which is, I admit, a little posh. Their finger food is to die for.
India Palace is my favourite Indian restaurant with some surprising recipes that will make you eat spices even if you usually try to avoid them. Their menu is as well-stocked for vegetarians as it is for non-vegetarians. Non-vegetarians can have a delicious vegetarian meal without even realising it!
For Friday buffets, which are a tradition in Abu Dhabi, I would select Viceroy on Yas Island as well as the Ritz-Carlton. I recommend a loooong nap afterwards.

What is the biggest stereotype about Abu Dhabi? And why is it or is it not true?
Abu Dhabi is only for rich snobs who want to go to the Arabic Las Vegas. This annoys me no end because, yes, I love shopping, but this does not define Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has got a whole "natural" side if you like exploring, whether you like adventure or not: 4x4 drives, the desert, animal natural reserves, the mountains not so far away, diving, swimming, etc... Abu Dhabi has a rich culture and history. It is characterised by its multiculturalism and welcoming people from everywhere.

Can you tell us a secret about Abu Dhabi?
I can even tell you two secrets. Do not stick to the most Western, posh or chic places. You have to check out less popular places because they are interesting, too (for example, Hamdan Centre, souks, the Iranian Market and so on). Do not be appalled by posh places, go everywhere and also try to check out events where there is traditional stuff such as camel races, Saluki beauty competitions, etc. Abu Dhabi belongs to everyone -- not only to UAE nationals but also to expatriates from all over the world as well as to tourists. The combination of all of these is making Abu Dhabi what it is, a fusion of all, for all.

glassartist.jessicaseraphim.com

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