The paintings lean against one another in the small Bur Dubai studio: a portrait of Justin Bieber, an ethereal imagining of a unicorn, so fragile it looks like the lines could blow away. Mosaic and ceramic works are stored on nearby shelves. Unframed pictures line the walls and several - some complete, some still to be finished - stand on easels scattered along the empty courtyard.
In the main studio, several people sit hunched over the table in the middle of the floor, carefully applying coloured tiles to empty canvases. One artist stands back, surveying his near-complete abstract painting. Everyone hums to the old Madonna song playing on the radio.
In a nearby kitchen, which is filled with empty cups and the smell of coffee, a purple paper bag brought in to the studio sits on the counter, bearing the cheerful message: "Every opportunity in life is an opportunity to sparkle!"
The setting was Mawaheb From Beautiful People, a non-profit art studio for young adults with special needs, last spring. After a summer break, the studio enters into its second year this morning. So far there are 16 students enrolled, between the ages of 19 and 35. Most will attend daily classes, from Sunday through Thursday, until June 30.
Fifteen volunteers and two professional art teachers help run the centre, which was launched last year to cater to pupils with disabilities including autism and William's Syndrome, which is often characterised by development delays appearing alongside striking verbal abilities and sometimes an affinity for music.
The work, however, is not just about drawing and painting. The studio is designed to help ease the transition into adulthood.
"We do art, but, through art, we teach life skills," says Wemmy de Maaker.
The 40-year-old social worker from the Netherlands began Mawaheb last year along with some royal help: the studio was provided by Princess Haya, wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Despite the assistance, the programme requires ongoing support, she says.
"I worked two years to open the studio with a lot of help from three other families and authorities in Dubai... [and] we are still looking for sponsors who are willing to support this wonderful project for those people who are an important part of our community."
Although similar in name and scope to the Beautiful People studios, which belong to the Netherlands-based Beautiful People Foundation, this is the only Mawaheb From Beautiful People studio, says de Maaker. She previously took part in an awareness campaign with Beautiful People chief executive Robert Wolff, to highlight the need for such a studio in this region.When the demand calls for it, there are hopes that this will be the first of many.
"We don't have a waiting list yet," says de Maaker, "but soon we will be fully booked and will start a waiting list. When we see that there is a need for another studio in Dubai we would like to do so."
Mawaheb, which is Arabic for "talents", is organised as a non-profit outfit. Students pay fees to attend, with additional revenue earned by the selling of their work. In its first year, one of the artists, 25-year-old Anjali Kakar, sold eight paintings."This is a nice place, and I'm family with my friends," says Ms Kakar, from India, who will attend the studio this year for two days a week.
Her best friends at the studio are fellow artists Sarah, Rebecca and Tanya, she adds. "They are new friends."Despite having never paid attention to painting before starting at Mawaheb in June, Kakar is not surprised by the work she has produced.
"I am an artist," she says with a laugh.There are others who appreciate her talent.
"My mum came at opening time, and she had a good reaction. She was very, very happy," says Kakar, before turning back to her mosaic piece of art.
From / The National