Emirates Women Award winner and jewelry designer Azza al Qubaisi literally brings culture to the fingertips.
More than a jewellery designer, a sister and inspiration
ABU DHABI // Every day, Azza al Qubaisi has the pleasure of working with items that sparkle and shine.
But the Abu Dhabi jewellery designer did not choose her profession because of the glamour.
She chose it because it provided her with a creative outlet.
And this year, her passion and charisma helped her to win the Emirates Women Award in two categories: community contribution, and overall winner for business achievements.
The jewellery scene was not always on her agenda. Having the opportunity to travel to London to further her education, she had planned to pursue "something more academic".
However, after attending two elective art classes during her first year of college, everything changed.
"I immediately realised this is what I wanted," Ms al Qubaisi, 32, said. "It was like a curtain had been lifted."
The real turning point came later that year when she attended the Sensation art exhibit in London. It showcased the work of young British artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, and portions were considered so graphic that they were restricted to those over 18.
"It really shocked me," she said. "It broke boundaries I never even knew existed in my mind. There were works made out of meat and maggots, and others that explicitly expressed issues about sexuality - things you would never see in the Arab art scene."
Although the exhibition was a little too provocative for her taste, the "shocking" level of self-expression that art could provide evoked in her a sense of unlimited possibilities. She decided to pursue a degree in jewellery design and silversmithing at London Metropolitan University.
After completing her degree in 2002, Ms al Qubaisi returned to the UAE with ambitions to open her own business.
"I needed to feel independent," she said. "I had the business background and I wanted to prove my potential to the world."
The Abu Dhabi art scene posed a significant challenge. "Such a field was not available locally at the time," she said. "It was almost impossible to even meet another artist. No one knew who I was or what I was capable of."
The aspiring designer pressed on and launched The Arabian Workshop for Jewellery and Gems, where she moulds her creations. She uses unconventional materials to create jewellery that reflects the culture and heritage of the UAE, at prices ranging from Dh50 to Dh2,000 per piece.
From prayer beads carved out of camel bone to pendants created from incense, each creation is made by Ms al Qubaisi.
Her Angel Tears collection features gold that is moulded to symbolise aspects of pearl diving. One piece, a golden necklace, represents an injured pearl diver's finger, with a diamond as a drop of blood.
Although jewellery design is her passion, Ms al Qubaisi also has a side job to keep the business afloat: she designs and produces corporate gifts and trophies with the help of her workshop team.
Her contributions to the community, including the launching of two art galleries that support emerging artists and setting up an initiative last month to help boost the art scene in Al Gharbia, is what helped her win the second award.
The Al Gharbia project, called "Lamset Ibdaa", or "A Touch of Creativity", brings together women from many backgrounds and provides them with the resources they need to develop their design and business skills.
Hamda Mubarak al Hamili, 33, is a member of the group. Along with a classmate, Ms al Hamili approached Ms al Qubaisi for help as she was preparing to graduate from the design programme at Al Gharbia Institute.
"We were only two girls at the time and Azza took us in and trained us. We fell in love with design even more because of the way she treated us," Ms al Hamili said. "She became more than our trainer, she became our sister."
Ms al Qubaisi then decided to open the first and only jewellery workshop in Al Gharbia.
"Before this, women here didn't have access to the empowerment and knowledge they needed to bring out all the potential that was in them," Ms al Hamili said. "Azza's initiatives have provided them with this opportunity."
Lamset Ibdaa will hold its first art exhibition later this month. Members said it will be the first of its kind in Al Gharbia.