In a 77th floor penthouse apartment, the former REM singer Michael Stipe is holding court on a balcony overlooking the sweeping panorama of Dubai at night. Across the room, Generation X author Douglas Coupland is locked in a debate about the merits of fiction versus art and an impressive 3-feet-high Nadim Karam elephant sculpture is in danger of being used as a drinks stand as 350 partygoers fill the three floors of Hisham Samawi\'s private residence, a stone\'s throw from his Ayyam gallery. Down below, hundreds of art enthusiasts are spilling out of galleries opening late for Dubai International Financial Centre\'s monthly art night onto a central courtyard, where Soheila Sokhanvari\'s stuffed horse astride a fibreglass airbag stares back mournfully at them. Across the city, among the throngs filling Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz, Edge of Arabia founder Stephen Stapleton is deep in discussion with a writer from The Guardian about whether the eastern provinces are rivalling Jeddah\'s artistic output while Oxford-educated Louisa Macmillan, a former Middle Eastern art curator for the British Museum, launches into a full-scale discourse in Arabic with Syrian artist Tammam Azzam about a recent exhibition in London. Art Dubai has not even begun and already the mayhem of the fair has kicked off, as a phalanx of artists, curators, critics, collectors and Arabists descend on the city. If anyone doubted Dubai\'s position as a thumping heartbeat at the epicentre of the Middle East\'s vibrant contemporary art scene, they had only to set foot in the city during last week\'s fair. For some, it is a chance to network, discover new artists or buyers and form profitable and productive alliances with galleries or institutions from around the world. For all, it is a chance to see some of the best of the region\'s offerings. Seventy-five galleries, 30 countries and 500 artists - and just five days to take it all in. Tonight, the revelry will continue until dawn. Tomorrow, the real business begins. ***** It is two days before the fair opens, but Huma Mulji\'s elaborate cabinet of curiosities is lying in pieces around her. The scene resembles a children\'s craft project, with tools, glue sticks and marker pens scattered amid large ostrich eggs protected in bubble wrap, an array of stuffed birds in cardboard boxes and more than 100 maniacal-looking dolls cast in porcelain. It takes two days for a team to assemble the antique wooden cabinets, bought from a market in Mulji\'s native Karachi, torn apart and rebuilt in the shape she wanted. Mulji suddenly disappears, crawling into an opening in her modern take on a 16th century wunderkammer, or room of wonder. Only her feet are left dangling outside as she wrangles with her cabinet\'s internal wiring. All at once, the display lights up and The Miraculous Lives of This and That is brought to life. It has been a labour of love and involved more than a year of meticulous planning for the Pakistani artist to get her artwork erected here at Art Dubai, where she is one of five winners of the Abraaj Group prize. She travelled across Europe to research original curiosity cabinets dating back to the Renaissance while the dolls had to be ordered from Limoges in France at a cost of Dh47,260, a hefty chunk of her Dh367,300 Abraaj grant. Too big when assembled, it took a 150ft high crane to hoist the cabinet off the roof of the home she shares in Lahore with her husband, British sculptor and landscape gardener David Alesworth, 55, and their two-year-old daughter Natasha. Even then, the whole project nearly unravelled when Pakistani customs officers threatened to drill into the centrepiece of her display, a taxidermied cow, fearing it could be a hideaway for drugs.