x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hanging hopes on a new gallery

Six young women hope to define Emirati culture to the rest of the world - and then invite international artists to the capital.

Noora Ramah, left, and Noora al Qubaisi are in talks with a non-profit institute to open a gallery after graduation in January.
Noora Ramah, left, and Noora al Qubaisi are in talks with a non-profit institute to open a gallery after graduation in January.

ABU DHABI // As the great and the good of the international art world descended this week for artparis-Abu Dhabi and the unveiling of a permanent public statue, a group from Zayed University was formulating their own plans to put the emirate on the map.

The six young women, students and graduates from the school's art programme, have been planning to open a non-commercial contemporary gallery to showcase their own work and support local talent. All six worked as guides at the first showing of the private art collection of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. They have been talking to the Goethe Institute, a non-profit cultural institution operating worldwide, about funding and their goals for the gallery.

Above all, the women see art as an expression of their Emirati identity. Mouza al Mazrouei, 24, a trainee in interior design who graduated last year, explained: "What makes our art different is our heritage and culture. When you mix this with art from other countries, with different views, that makes it unique." The women are keen to break down stereotypes associated with the Emirates. Noora Ramah, 21, who will graduate in mixed media arts in January, says the artists are not planning to create "drawings of a camel or a horse or a landscape".

"For us that is good, but it is a bit overused and it is not unique anymore. Instead, we will look for new ideas and inspiration all over the place, in our country and across the world. "Most people outside the UAE only think about us from the perspective of camels, horses and beautiful views of the desert, so we need to send a message through our art that there is art culture here." The emirate is becoming known, culturally, for events like artparis-Abu Dhabi and the development of Saadiyat Island. "Who would ever have thought that Abu Dhabi would be a country where the Guggenheim is going to be, and the Louvre?" said Miss Ramah. "It is a pretty big opportunity for Abu Dhabi to expose itself."

Noora al Qubaisi, 22, who will also graduate in mixed media arts in January, said it was important to express the Emirates' "very diverse, rich culture". "Everything tells a story, even a small part of a village, or an old part of the country, everywhere has a story behind it," she said. "For me, it is just about how you express that story in a more contemporary style, because we are young artists who understand the old part of Abu Dhabi and the new one. We can bridge the two worlds."

She believes that the UAE's history and its rapid development give Emirati artists a unique perspective. "We are living in this new contemporary world and we see the technology and construction, but we are also raised on tradition. Because we have older people like my grandmother and my grandfather around, we are used to the old style. "The fact that we have experiences of both worlds makes us very different. It is a new country but it still has lots of old elements to it. It is an intimate culture."

The women are conscious that they are breaking new ground. "No one ever thought Emirati girls would go out shooting a film, or having a photo shoot, or going to exhibitions or planning events," said Miss Ramah. "Nowadays, most families have seen how the country is changing through a mix of cultures and they have learnt that it is not a bad thing to go out and to be creative and to do something to express yourself, to be known."

However, she knows that while they seek to find their place as individuals in the world, heritage remains vital. "We follow new trends but there is a point at which heritage must be respected. "It is in the way we salute each other, the way in which we celebrate Eid and Ramadan and relate to one another. Heritage is very important." And they have ambitious plans. They hope to invite international artists for workshops, such as Susan Hefuna, the Egyptian-German artist, who worked with the women earlier this year. "At the start it is going to be for Emiratis but later on it will be for everyone," said Miss Ramah.

"We don't only want to stay in the background; we are planning to go worldwide. Hopefully one day, just like people say, 'that is Moroccan style', for example, they will be able to say, 'that is Emirati style'." kattwood@thenational.ae