Book collectors and UAE aficionados, rejoice—Assouline has collaborated with Expo 2020 Dubai on a collection of seven separate volumes dedicated to the stately event that had a spectacular run for six months until 31 March 2022.

Each volume is packed with spectacular photographs, educational descriptions, exclusive interviews, and incredible insight about the historical significance of the landmark and the impressive architecture that it houses.

“Like the buildings themselves, the books will set new benchmarks for the future, forming an essential record of Expo’s meaningful, lasting legacy,” stated Dr Federica Busa, Senior Vice President of Visitor Experience at Expo 2020 Dubai.

The way that Myrna Ayad talks wistfully about Dubai is how one would speak of a dear old friend. “My childhood in Dubai was golden, both literally and metaphorically,” she says. “I grew up on the banks of Khor Dubai (the Creek) and when I think about it now, I think of when the sun is setting and how it would tinge everything orange. It was also a golden childhood because of the intimacy of Dubai in that it felt like a village; everybody knew everybody.”

After living in Dubai for 40 years, the Lebanese-born editor, cultural strategist and arts consultant has seen the city transform in more ways than one. In her latest book Dubai Wonder for the boutique publisher Assouline, Myrna details these changes alongside images that capture the many facets of the Emirate. “The difference between then and now is radical,” Myrna says.

Appreciating the view from Palm Jumeirah, looking onto the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel; Photography by © Alverart | © Shuga Photography

“I know that when one talks about Dubai, there is no escaping the mention of Atlantis, Burj Khalifa, the New Year’s fireworks or The Dubai Mall. There’s the biggest this and the highest that. It is the glitzy, the glamorous, the shiny.” But in her essay for the book, she wanted to show how Dubai is much more than that. “It’s such a deep, meaningful, and charming city,” she continues. “It’s got such a history to it, more than people know.” Myrna still misses the old days; an altogether simpler time.

“With all due respect to Dubai and its incredible high rises and luxury resorts – each one more beautiful and tantalizing than the next – nothing beats the view from where we lived at the Hyatt Regency Galleria on the banks of the Khor when I was growing up. Dubai wasn’t as built up as it is now and you could see as far as Jebel Ali and to the airport, and of course the water. I could see everything. The sun’s golden rays shining down on the water and sand.”

I grew up on the banks of Khor Dubai (the Creek) and when I think about it now, I think of when the sun is setting and how it would tinge everything orange.

Myrna almost glows herself as she talks about Old Dubai, although she admits that she rarely visits the area anymore. “I did make a point once to take my daughter and to show her where I grew up. I want to take her on an abra cruise and to tell her that the Khor is what made this city,” she says.

For Myrna, writing the book has been like writing a thank you to the city that has been home to her since she was a child, raised her, and now supports her own young family. “My maternal grandfather came here in 1965 to open up some of the country’s first hotels in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi,” she recalls. “I grew up and stayed here: I graduated from school and university, I worked here, I got married here, we had our kids here. So Dubai is important to me.”

Model Chanel Ayan photographed in the Hatta desert by Adam Browning-Hill for CHIC magazine; Photography by © Adam Browning-Hill, styling by Lisa Strannesten, hair and makeup by Toni Malt 

A naturally nostalgic person, Myrna describes how, in her 30s, she began to take stock of life. “One cannot be immune to what is happening in the region. Having the privilege of working within the domain of arts and culture allows one to see first-hand what some great countries and kingdoms in the Middle East were, and how others have fallen into economic and political collapse,” she says.

“For me now, as a wife and a mother, I thank God for this place, our safety and our future here. We have amazing memories here, wonderful friends, a thriving community, excellent schooling and health care, and a cultural ecosystem, that are all just getting better and better.”

Dubai is such a deep, meaningful, and charming city. It’s got such a history to it, more than people know.

Another aspect of the city that Myrna holds dear is its multiculturalism. “Those who came to Dubai in the early 80s were mostly Arabs, Persians and South Asians often fleeing their countries for political or economic reasons,” she says. But growing up with all these people from different places had a profound effect on her.

“When I was director of Art Dubai, I would be asked about the art that’s presented here and I would say: if you go to Tehran, you are going to see Iranian art; if you go to Beirut, you are going to see Lebanese art; if you go to Cairo, you are going to see Egyptian art. But when you come to Dubai, you see art from around the world. And the same can be said about everything else.” She is also grateful that her young daughter and newborn son are being brought up in the same inclusive environment. “There is no escaping how multicultural Dubai was, and still is.”

Myrna Ayad at her home in Dubai; Photography by Ausra Osipaviciute

The Dubai Wonder book is owed largely to Myrna’s first book with Assouline, Sheikh Zayed: An Eternal Legacy. “I grew up hearing and seeing so much about Sheikh Zayed, or Baba Zayed as he is often called; he was very present in our lives, and had a saintly, kind face that made one feel safe,” she says.

A person who enjoys tracing back to the roots of things, Myrna says she often thinks about Sheikh Zayed and how present he remains in the UAE even though he’s passed. “I’ve always wanted to know who he was as a person, not just as a leader. So the foundation of the book was finding out about the man himself from his children, grandchildren, and those who worked closely with him,” she says. “It was also another way of paying thanks.”

I grew up hearing and seeing so much about Sheikh Zayed, or Baba Zayed as he is often called; he was very present in our lives, and had a saintly, kind face that made one feel safe

When asked about the best images in the Dubai Wonder book, Myrna’s response is unsurprising. “My favourite ones are definitely of Old Dubai,” she says with glee. “Of course, I like the Khor in all of its glory but I also like those that are a bit like holiday snaps, like an image of a fishmonger sitting in front of his catch of the day.”

She doesn’t see the photographs as a regional cliché but rather as a real slice of Dubai life. “Every Friday we would go to the fish market to buy fresh fish,” she remembers. “Even the images of the malls might look glitzy to some, but for me they are my high street: the mall is my go-to or where I escape the heat.” Of course, the book contains a lot of the images that people would expect from Dubai: all the glitz and glam. “Again, that’s what I see every day,” Myrna smiles. “And it is all part of this wonderful city that I call home.”

Breathtaking images of the Dubai cityscape are commonplace on social media. Photography by Bachir Moukarzel

Which book to indulge in this weekend? Live vicariously through Turquoise Coast, a beautiful hardback sheathed in blue, named after the Turkish Riviera, which features mountain scenery, rich myths and folklore that hail from the shoreline along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

Released in May by Assouline this year, the book features two of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the ruins of the Mausoleum of Maussollos and the Temple of Artemis. With photography by Oliver Pilcher  and excerpts by Nevbahar Koç and Irem Kınay, the book features anecdotes by names such as Tommy Hilfiger, Chiara Ferragni and Mert Alas, who hold the region close to their hearts.

Get your hands on this luxe tome, which is now available in a limited-edition translucent blue slipcase, which reflects the glimmer of ocean waves.

Assouline.com, $85 (Dhs312)

Amidst the earthy charm of Scranton, Pennsylvania, sits the Colonel Louis Watres Armory, a turreted building from 1900 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The state was soon to sell the property had it not been for Hunt Slonem, the Neo-Expressionist painter with a passion for turning projects around. Slonem, whose paintings hang at the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian, has redesigned the space as a personal museum, bedecking it with colors, paintings, antique
furniture and decoratives. 

Inside spreads of Gatekeeper: World of Folly by Assouline

His latest book, Gatekeeper: World of Folly, published by Assouline, brings readers inside this glorious building, with each page of this hefty tome a feast for the eyes. Read on to find out more about the enchanting space, Slonem’s tips for ‘collectorating’ (collecting and decorating), and what appeals to him the most about the UAE.

Why do you draw inspiration from natural iconography and Abraham Lincoln?
I have always drawn inspiration from nature and the human spirit. I cannot think of anything else more
inspiring. Spirit where Lincoln comes in—he was a great human being and changer of mankind. Progression is about being a spiritually evolved person and I have felt uplifted and inspired by his works my entire life.

An interior view of Colonel Louis Watres Armory, restored by Hunt Slonem and pictured in Gatekeeper: World of Folly

How would you describe your creative sensibilities?
I would use the word ‘exotic’ to sum up my sensibilities, something that is not a part of the world I live in. My work offers a closer look at nature through my experience of living around many birds and orchid plants, and going for butterfly viewings. I call it ‘looking through the veil of reality’—it is about discovering new forms and looking at things we live with in a different way. I love it when, say, a new species of monkey is suddenly discovered in Brazil, although people have lived around them forever. So, my body of work gives a last look at what nature has provided for us and discovers what is beneath the surface of our existence.

An interior view of the space filled with color and maximalist prints

What’s the idea behind Gatekeeper: World of Folly and the title of the book? How would you describe the art
of ‘collectorating’?
Gatekeeper: World of Folly is literally about being the ‘gatekeeper’ of the building, which would not have lasted much longer if we had not done what we did. It is a great architectural statement and on a scale that one rarely gets to work with. My selection of antiques and the décor is about salvaging pieces from other periods of time, often rebuilding and re-fabricating them. So, I am putting a world back together that had fallen apart and left us for a 100 years or more, and I probably did it with more color and flair than would have been done originally.

A detail of the decoratives inside the space

How do you think your creative sensibilities are attuned to the UAE?
I am very thrilled when I am in the UAE. I am fascinated by the call to prayer, the styles of architecture, and the uniquely modern buildings. I have never been anywhere else in the world where everything is so well-planned and clean, and you have such great buildings—the Burj Khalifa, tallest in the world… Everything is so new yet so aligned to the ancient cultures that thrive there. You have the Louvre Abu Dhabi—that was really exciting to see, but my favorite thing is the call to prayer.

Inside spreads of Gatekeeper: World of Folly by Assouline

Can you share a few tips on how to fuse art and design to create a tasteful space?
My feeling is that you should look at pictures of all historic design over the centuries and pick and choose from what you like in them. There are such interesting colors from many periods in history—everything should not be white, in my opinion. I am free of the whole beige syndrome that has surfaced in the last few years of design. I like to bring together cultures, antiques and modern pieces. I like to mix the indoors and outdoors and love the idea of the conservatory, where you bring plants and perhaps animals into the home. So, I like to create a rich, colorful setting, but taste is certainly established by studying styles from different periods and cultures.

Photography by Chris Balton; Images courtesy of Assouline; Follow Hunt Slonem @Huntslonem