Highlife Dubai’s hilarious new range

It’s one of those ideas that is so brilliantly simple it fills you with admiration and irritation at the same time. Admiration because of the precision and panache with which they’re executed, irritation because you didn’t come up with it first.

Launched under the banner of British graphic designer Clare Napper’s digital art prints, in which she depicts the city using imagined travel posters from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, were an immediate success when the first collection was launched in late 2014, appealing to a community who were perhaps a little jaded by the all-pervasive “everything is awesome” portrayals of Dubai’s gleaming success.

The gently self-deprecating nature of “Maids: How will we live without them?”, “Expat Rage” and “Poverty Sucks” clearly struck a chord. You can’t genuinely love somewhere unless you recognise and accept its unique quirks and absurdities. Happily for fans of the first collection, a new one is on the way. ShortList was delighted to showcase one of Clare’s latest works on our front cover.

So, what was the spark of the original idea? 

I first came up with the idea when I was working on designs for the launch of the Dubai Metro for Saatchi & Saatchi. I had been researching how other underground systems had launched and had fallen in love with the vintage ads from the London Underground. I thought that would be a great way to tell stories of modern Dubai. I loved the idea of creating a fake back story as there was none of these old commercial ads in existence for a place that’s so young. By using the format of old fashioned travel and tourism ads, it allowed me to “re-present” the familiar as foreign and idealised. I also hope it sheds a bit of light on the unique and privileged life we lead.

Have you been surprised by the success? Any interesting or noteworthy customers?

I’ve been absolutely blown away by it all, to be honest! As I had invested a year of free time creating the first collection, I was hoping a few would sell, but I was not expecting to have to give up my day job over it. My favourite “customer” so far has to be the lovely gentlemen who bid AED11,000 for two of my posters at an auction raising money for the Nepalese Children of the Mountain charity. I was really chuffed!

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What are the best sellers?

By far the best seller has been “Day Trippin’”. I think a lot of us have fond memories of driving off to Baracuda to stock up on “supplies”… Although my newly released “Burj Khalifa” (pictured above) is doing well, too.

What’s the idea-gathering process for you? Do you leaf through travel books to see what could work in the UAE, or does it begin with observing Dubai and imagining an aspect as a poster?

I just think about me and my friends’ experiences of living here and the ideas really just present themselves. I then try and find a specific insight that we can all relate to and sketch out an ad that might portray it in a humorous way. The fun bit is then leafing through old vintage poster auction books or trawling online to see what ads I love aesthetically. Frankly, I then steal, steal, steal!

Has anyone ever taken offence? Have you encountered any great pieces of social media hate?

On the whole, I’ve not had anyone take offence. Saying that, after I was featured on the Mail Online, I had a barrage of abuse from Daily Mail readers [notoriously angry – Ed] but that was probably to be expected. Over here, I’m very lucky to work with the guys at Al Warda Gallery on Jumeirah Beach Road who are Emirati and Kuwaiti. I rely on them to be my local sounding board to not overstep the mark! They’ve only disapproved of one so far. It was something about toilets. That’s all I’ll say on the matter!

What can we expect in the new collection? Is it very much a continuation or have new ideas or themes emerged? Have you tried to push things a little bit?

I’m probably too scared to push things much further! The themes are more of the same. I didn’t quite cover all of the key ones last time around so I had to do Downtown, Burj Khalifa and the infamous Friday Brunch. Style-wise, I have actually started to explore vintage ad styles outside of just travel and tourism. For the Burj Khalifa poster, for instance, I took inspiration from old sci-fi projections of the future, and for Safa Park I played with an even earlier style from the turn of the century.

Is your social life now made up of people going “you should do one on….”?

All. The. Time. I had someone last week suggesting I should do a poster showing someone attacking one of the tellers at DEWA. I politely declined…

Do you have a personal favourite from either collection?

I think my all-time favourite poster is “Ex-Pat Rage”… the design is based on an old medical ad which was so bad it was good. If it can help stressed-out expats recognise when they are having an attack of “EPR” and calm down a little, then maybe it can do some good! I have shown it to a number of taxi drivers and they all find it very funny.

Is this it for you now? You can produce a few of these every year and sit back and relax? 

Ha! I wish. I’m a bit of a workaholic and have plans for more hair-brained business ideas next year. I’ve definitely got the bug for developing my own businesses, but I also want to explore my art.

I hope it’s possible to do both.

Will we be seeing these posters on mugs, t-shirts, cushions, etc?

Maybe next year, when my next venture fails and I need some extra cash.

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