x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Home is where the connections are

Fatma Lootah is an Emirati artist who lives and works in Italy. Watan is her new exhibition and it explores the concept of home.

One of the unnamed women whose portraits also form part of the show. Christopher Pike / The National
One of the unnamed women whose portraits also form part of the show. Christopher Pike / The National

From somewhere behind his wise eyes and the folds of his aged face, Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum's character seems to exude from the painting.

He stares out of the canvas, his soft white beard accentuated by the soft brush strokes that the artist Fatma Lootah has made with acrylic paint onto her printed digital painting.

The image of the former leader, who was born in 1878 and ruled Dubai until his death in 1958, might be familiar, but Lootah's artistic style is unique and so breathes new life into his portrait.

Founding father

"In many ways, Sheikh Saeed summarises the title of the show. He is the father of Dubai and he was a really wise man," says Lootah. "Many people fall in love with the painting when they see it and I think it is because of the eyes. I spent a lot of time on the eyes, so that you can see the soul talking."

Home from home

The painting of Sheikh Saeed is part of Lootah's exhibition Watan, which is up in the Cultural and Scientific Association in Al Mamzar, Dubai, until Tuesday.

Lootah plays an unusual role in the UAE's art scene. Although born and bred in Dubai, this Emirati travelled to Washington to study art in her 20s and never returned to live in the UAE. She moved to Verona in northern Italy, where she married, had three daughters and set up her art studio.

In recent years, however, she has returned regularly to the UAE to exhibit her work and in 2010, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid gave her a house in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood where she can practise her work.

Watan, which translates as homeland or home, is just one of a number of her exhibitions, although this one is particularly poignant. "I chose the title because I feel people no longer have the sensation of home and I want to bring it back. Nowadays what is going on in the world is that people are losing the connection with the Earth and so not caring about the things in it. If you care you will be connected, no matter how far away you are."

Characterising a nation

The exhibition is made up of 20 paintings, all portraits. Sheikh Saeed is joined by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Lootah has also painted her brother and cousin as well as several women who, although not based on anyone in particular, are as much alive as all the other characters. "I guess I know them also because they came almost as strong as the others when I was painting. I think they are in my mind or my memory - in my subconscious somehow."

The role of women

One of Lootah's strongest paintings in the series is of a woman whose back is turned and who is walking away. "I love this painting because you can see her even though you can't see her face. Her energy is very strong - her movement, her hand - it comes through," says Lootah.

Lootah first started exploring the situation of women in the 1980s when she began her practice with performance art. "Being a woman is not easy," she says. "If you look at the world it is still really difficult for women all over the world, not only the UAE, but I choose to depict a woman's beauty and strength."


The obvious question when regarding Lootah's work is to wonder whether after spending so many years overseas, she is missing home. "When you are concentrating and doing something like creating art there is no home because the universe is home," she says in her characteristically spiritual way. "However, the sensation of having the people you know and love around you and that comfort is home. Here in the UAE my family are here and I miss that about my home."


Watan runs at the Cultural and Scientific Association in Al Mamzar until Tuesday