Robert Ripley’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not! has entertained families with its stranger-than-fiction exhibits since 1918, celebrating 100 years of the weird and wonderful this year. For the first time in history, the popular American franchise has made a visit to Dubai.
Featuring more than 75 exhibits, Ripley’s travelling show is scattered all across Wafi Mall.
At a leisurely stroll — you’ll want to set aside at least two hours — visitors will be able experience dinosaur skeletons, a five-legged cow, art made out of food, a selection of Muhammad Ali’s signed memorabilia, and statues of improbably tall and wide and long-nosed men.
‘Believe it or not’ facts, written in both English and Arabic onto accompanying plaques, will fill you in on all you need to know, ranging from beautiful to bizarre.
Victor Danau, Ripley’s director of operations and development for Asia Pacific, tells Gulf News tabloid! it was the venue who brought about the idea to bring Ripley’s to Dubai.
“They reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to bring something unique and unusual and cool, something that appeals to everybody,’” says Danau.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Hulking, fragile and intricate displays fill the exhibit. A ‘bamboo toothpick capital’ is built out of 250,000 bamboo splinters and uses no glue to keep its pieces together. Nearby, a larger-than-life robot, made out of car parts, towers over passers-by.
Transporting such items seems improbable at best and a logistical nightmare at worst.
Danau laughs. “It takes a lot of care, because a lot of them are very delicate. You also have to pack a lot of hot guns with you, because when it arrives, there’s quite a bit of putting it back together, after sitting in that ship for six weeks,” he explains.
After decades of packing and transporting exhibits, the process has become a streamlined one.
“It’s about six weeks from our warehouses in Orlando, Florida. For this, it was only, like, five or six containers. They’re big [items], but we could pack them. We’re celebrating 100 years this year, so they’ve got it down.”
ALL AROUND THE WORLD
Vietnam-based Danau, with 12 years of experience in the attractions industry, has been working with Ripley’s for two years now. He grew up watching the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! on TV, hosted by Superman actor Dean Cain, as well as visiting its exhibits.
“[Ripley’s] facades are always incredible. They’re upside down or falling apart or it they have a shark biting through it, or a dinosaur on it. They always stand out. We’d always go to Ripley’s as a kid. It was kind of a funny full circle, to end up working for them,” said Danau.
PERMENANT DUBAI LOCATION
Ripley’s travelling exhibition at Wafi Mall will be open from September until November. But a permanent Dubai location could happen, if they found the right local partner to make it work.
“We’re constantly having conversations, we just haven’t found the right one yet. We’re hopeful. There’s a lot of opportunity here. Dubai is becoming sort of a tourist mecca, certainly regionally and internationally. It seems like a great place to put a permanent exhibit. This [travelling show] is a good test for us, as well, to see how people react,” said Danau.
tabloid! took a tour of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! travelling exhibition at Wafi Mall ahead of its opening to bring you our top picks, from the nerdy to the downright surreal.
You’ll have to crane your neck to see the entirety of this larger-than-life portrait of Van Gogh, which, at 670x487cm, is made only out of post cards — thousands of them. The breathtaking pastel masterpiece, originating from Netherlands, welcomes you to the art section of Ripley’s exhibition, which is filled with surreally realistic portraits crafted from everyday objects — Mona Lisa made out of toasted bread, Jennifer Lawrence fashioned out of rose petals, Sandra Bullock built from candy, and Edgar Allan Poe painted using only smoke. A must-see.
Inside the ring with Muhammad Ali
Inside of a replica of a boxing ring, catch a glimpse of a signed Muhammad Ali robe, Ali’s belt, and one of four original ceremonial Olympic torches from the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, Italy. Plus, ceremonial programmes signed by gold medallist Ali, and an art installation of his distinctive face laser cut from burnished steal. We hear they’ll also be adding Ali’s belt to the exhibition, so make sure you don’t miss it. As is tradition with all of Ripley’s exhibits, you’ll be able to read interesting snippets about Ali’s incredible career, too.
Reign of the dinosaurs
In the centre of Ripley’s dinosaur exhibit, you’ll find the imposing skeleton of a large mastodon, a prehistoric relative of the elephant, with its teeth on show and its long, impressive tusks curving to the sky. Beside it sits the skull of a tyrannosaurus rex — colloquially referred to as a T-Rex — and the delicate skeleton of a sharp-toothed flying pterodactyl. Perhaps more strangely, there’s a half-sized replica of a stegosaurus made entirely out of shredded money. That’s right: more than a million ripped and frayed American dollars were used to craft it. Try not to cry.
If you close your eyes and think about Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, you’ll probably conjure up their human oddities exhibits in your mind’s eye, featuring the world’s tallest, biggest, smallest and strangest humans. Here, you’ll be able to measure yourself next to a statue of Robert Wadlow, who grew to be 8’11 (271cm) before dying at the age of 22. Or you can read about Walter Hudson, once considered to be the heaviest man in the world, who weighed nearly 1,400 pounds (635kg) in 1987, and reportedly ate upwards of 12 eggs, eight burgers and eight large fries in a day.
For the comic book aficionados in the crowd, you’ll find a surprising amount of exhibits that will get your Spidey senses tingling. A statue of our favourite trustworthy superhero Captain America looks unassuming at first, but if you look up close, you’ll see it’s made out of dozens of other Marvel and DC characters, including Iron Man jutting from his shoulder, the Hulk bursting through his chest, and Wolverine erupting teeth-first from his back. Nearby, you’ll spot 3D matchbox sculptures of Cat Woman, Bat Man and Spider-Man. In the atrium, the incredible Hulk stands tall, shiny and dependably angry, made up recycled scrap metal. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Leonardo holds down the forte back in the art corner, made up entirely out of yarn.
A galloping horse made out of piano parts, a dinosaur built out of tyres, and a repurposed Volkswagen Beetle hood with the Beatles’ John Lennon etched into its front. Welcome to the world of recycled and upcycled art. According to Ripley’s representative Victor Danau, this selection, which is available at Wafi’s main atrium, holds deeper significance. “People make the most interesting things out of garbage. It’s just an important message to send. Before you throw it away, think of something you can do creatively. It’s a really nice message for the future, as well,” he tells tabloid!.
Willard Wigan’s impossible craft
61-year-old British sculptor Willard Wigan, who has an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his contributions to the arts, makes miniature sculptures in the eye of a needle and on the head of a pin. He paints with an eyelash and lowers his heart rate in order to work on such a delicate scale. His sculptures so tiny, you literally need a microscope to see them. Four of his pieces are on display in Dubai, as well as videos detailing his process. As Danau explained, “You can’t describe it. You have to see it to believe it. That was Robert Ripley’s motto: ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’”