x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Students dreaming of a life in the arts

Maryam Alatouly, 25, was commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Festival to illustrate the images of Emirati mythology as part of the festival's Space Sessions, which showcased the work of young local artists in film, literature and visual art.

Young artists Maryam Alatouly, left, and Maitha Alfalasi outside twofour54’s The Space in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
Young artists Maryam Alatouly, left, and Maitha Alfalasi outside twofour54’s The Space in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Holding white chalk to a blackboard, Maryam Alatouly and Maitha Alfalasi worked quietly as they traced “the stuff of their childhood nightmares” – Hmarat Al Gaila.

With her beautiful face and donkey legs, Hmarat Al Gaila would mesmerise and kill children who defied their parents’ orders to stay inside the house. Or so young Emirati children have been told for as long as anyone can remember.

“When we are young, they always told us, don’t go outside in the night because Hmarat Al Gaila will come,” said Ms Alfalasi, a 21-year-old intern with the Cartoon Network Academy.

“It’s really interesting, it shows that our grandfathers and grandmothers had a really good imagination and it shows that they know how to tell a story so that we can really get into it and get scared.”

Ms Alatouly, a 25-year-old Yemeni expatriate, was commissioned by Abu Dhabi Festival to illustrate images of Emirati mythology as part of the festival’s Space Sessions, which showcases the works of young local artists in film, literature and visual art. Ms Alatouly extended the opportunity to Ms Alfalasi so that she could gain experience.

Student participation is at the core of the festival, said founder and artistic director Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo. This year, students from 16 schools and 14 universities took part in the festival’s 34 productions and 117 events in 35 venues across the country.

“Throughout the festival, we provide opportunities for students to not only spectate and observe but participate and apply themselves in all forms of artistic expression,” Mrs Al Khamis-Kanoo said.

“Our education programme is about 45 per cent of our programme and is the first strand to be launched this year. This is because we want our vast and varied audience to join us in appreciating the importance of the arts in nurturing young minds and broadening their horizons.”

For the young women, the chance to use their artistic skills to promote the country’s heritage as part of Nation Narrates, the final night of Space Sessions, was a dream come true.

“It’s something we need in this culture. People need to see. Maryam is a really good artist, and the only way to show her off is through the media and the festival,” Ms Alfalasi said.

Both women praised the festival’s efforts to involve young artists in producing works that promote national culture and heritage. They said events such as the Abu Dhabi Festival and Space Sessions helped to elevate art as a viable and respectable career choice for young men and women.

“It’s helping people like to make the art grow here because I don’t think our parents accept the idea of being an artist, so if they see us mixed with the culture and mix with our identity, it feels like, yeah, this is a good thing that supports the region, supports everything that we needed. It’s not only art, it’s art that supports culture and everything,” said Ms Alatouly, herself a graduate of the Cartoon Network Academy.

Award-winning Emirati filmmaker Ayesha Alameri knows all too well how challenging it can be to get family to support a career in the arts.

Coming from a family of engineers, her decision to pursue a film career at first did not go over well. But, as she slowly made gains in her profession – even producing an award-winning short documentary – her family eventually came around.

“Our society needs to open their minds,” said Ms Alameri, 26, whose film Dreams In Their Eyes was screened on the final night of Space Sessions, on Wednesday. “Do what you want, even if you think your family will not accept that, just do it.

“It’s just that families always want to protect their kids, but once they feel that their kids are happy doing what they are doing, I don’t believe that there are parents around who are not going to want to see their kids happy.”

Abu Dhabi Festival ends on March 31.

rpennington@national.ae