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The Third Line | Dubai, UAE

Who Gets Paid for Digital Labor?

Mubeen, City As Archive

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"Mubeen, City as Archive." Powder-coated aluminum, LED light, Extension cord, archival shopfront designs. Curated by Sophie Arni. Photography by Ron John

Mubeen Calligraphy is a small advertising studio on an unmarked street in Satwa, Dubai. Everyday, Mubeen’s designer Faisal Abdu (b. 1988, Kottakkal, Kerala) creates the vibrant shop front graphics that give neighborhoods like Satwa, Al Quoz, and Deira their unmistakable character. 


Artist Christopher Joshua Benton, formerly based in Satwa, has worked with Faisal for several years. Together, they connect the street market and the art market, illuminating the invisible mechanisms of labor and production behind the glowing lights and psychedelic graphics that line Dubai’s most-loved shopping districts. 


Featuring direct designs from Mubeen’s archive, the installation takes inspiration from Deepak Unnikrishnan’s list poem “Pravasis?” (Malayalam for “expatriate”) in Temporary People (2017):

                              Tea Boy…Barber…Fishmonger…Cobbler…Fruit Hawker…

                                  Chicken Decapitator…Dressmaker…Shawarma Slicer…

                                  Caar Mechanic…Cafeteria Worker…Sculpture Mover…


These are the jobs that help the city run–worked by people whose presence is marked by transience. The lightboxes of Mubeen, City as Archive highlight the material and symbolic values of commodification – stripping down the visual vernacular of the city into emoji-like icons. From the mind of one designer to the vector that is Dubai, these lightboxes carry traces of a homeland, as Mubeen’s design choices interweave personal and cultural identity, territorializing and imprinting themselves upon the city's fabric.


"Mubeen, City as Archive." Powder-coated aluminum lightbox

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Process Image. Faisal Abdu at Mubeen Shop in Satwa, Dubai

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"Barber." 2023. Powder-coated aluminum, LED light


"Chicken Decapitator." 2023. 


"Cobbler." 2023.


"Caar Mechanic." 2023.


Fish Mongerer." 2023.


Process Image. The poem "Pravasis?" in Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

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Process Image. Going through Mubeen's digital archive of shopfront designs

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Process Image. Mubeen's digital archive Dubai of shopfront designs

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