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Tarsila Schubert: The power or public art and empowering artists

Brazilian artist Tarsila Schubert always knew she loved what she did, and that drove the success she enjoys today. Her murals decorate some of the liveliest spots in Dubai – the bold colors and abstract shapes making their mark on public art.

She also works to empower artists with equal opportunities through The Cave DXB (previously Blue Cave), a concept studio she founded in 2016 to host workspaces for artists and curate exhibitions that amplify them to the creative scene. 

Art came into her life at a very young age, and she was taught by her grandmother who was an academic painter. Growing up, she would join her artist friends in the streets of Brazil and they would teach her street art, something that shaped the way she creates art to this day. 

She went to college for dentistry but her heart remained with the arts and she never stopped painting. She decided to leave eight months before graduation because her first solo exhibition sold out, giving her hope that this was something she could build on.

A six-month project in the visual arts brought her to Dubai and eight years later, Tarsila is one of the most sought after artists in the UAE, specifically for art in public spaces.  

Despite the rich heritage in the arts, the UAE initially struggled to find space for public art within the sparkly towers and the cutting edge architecture of the city. In 2013, during a festival hosted by a friend, Tarsila had the honor of painting one of the first public walls in Deira. 

Inspired by culture, her distinctive style of art captures the underlying vibrant energy of the city, the vivid colors being a welcome disruption to the mundane. 

“My work used to be more figurative, but people here were not too fond,” says Tarsila, explaining how she began to create abstract work because she was afraid to paint certain things due to censorship. 

Her work is often a surprise to even her, she says, “I use freehand mostly and paint what comes to me at that moment. It’s coming from the inside and I let it.” 

After she did a mural for Dubai Design District, she was offered a space for The Cave in 2017, which is now home to a handful of artists chosen through a selection process. The artists and creatives come from across the world and vary in discipline – from fine artists to street artists, designers to photographers.  

As a part of their membership, they not only gain access to studio space but to opportunities within a creative community that attracts projects and sales.

“We want to create opportunities for them and the selection process aids in picking artists we can curate an exhibition with to support them in selling their work,” says Tarsila. 

With this process in place, The Cave is able to weed out those who simply have the money and desire for a studio while lacking the work ethic or the style that is needed for a successful collaboration. 

As a part of major event programming like Dubai Design Week, The Cave hosts exhibitions that boast the teamwork of their in-house artists. A cohesive feel throughout the works carries important narratives towards the viewer, making sure their stroll through the cavernous studio is a mesmerizing one. 

As an artist, Tarsila isn’t too inclined towards the business of it all and handles the creative direction of the projects that they do while her business partner handles the rest. 

Her most important takeaway from simultaneously being an artist and entrepreneur is a lesson that many creatives learn a little too late in their careers, and that is the ability to value their own creative work. 

“Some artists don’t know how to value their time, how to price their work. I could defend artists, I could price their work but I didn’t know how to give a value for what I was doing,” she says. “When you like to do something, we don’t feel like it’s work, and some people take advantage of that.”

Due to the pandemic, they haven’t been able to host any exhibitions. “It’s not easy to be here, it’s an expensive city to live in. All the artists are getting commissions, but there isn’t enough support from entities,” she says. 

“The only thing we can do is try to keep going and believe in what we do, and if it doesn’t go well, we change strategy and we change our thinking.”

Follow Tarsila on Instagram: @tarsilaschubert