Illustration by Isabel Ríos

Creative and Transformative: Young Emirati Artists on their Journeys

UAE Majlis hosts virtual dialogue about the local arts scene that showcases young talent.

Apr 4, 2021

On March 30, Student Interest Group UAE Majlis welcomed around 25 students to learn and engage in a dialogue about the arts scene in the United Arab Emirates.
The event was officiated with a virtual arts gallery that featured the creative works of NYU Abu Dhabi students. It was followed by a brief introduction to the history of art in the UAE and a moderated discussion with three Emirati artists based on their experiences, inspirations and challenges as they navigated through their own artistic journeys.
For Salman Rouhani, Class of 2020 and guest speaker, his career path as a product designer was greatly influenced by his family.
“My grandfather was a carpenter and my father is an architect and so I kind of grew up around seeing design… when we’d go on holidays he’d point out ‘you see that building this is why it looks like this’ or ‘take a closer look at the object’. I started to appreciate things and how they work,” explained Rouhani. “I found out that I enjoy taking things and elevating them to a level where people are affected by it in a positive way.”
Similar to Rouhan, Dhbaya AlQubaisi, Class of 2021, acknowledged the transformative potential of art. She recalled that her relationship with art began with doodling on the margins of her notebook. It quickly grew to become a central tool in understanding personal and communal identities as well as interjecting the power hierarchies in modern academia.
“My capstone explores women identity and family dynamics [within] my society [because we know] little about women and what it was like sitting and waiting for their husbands to come back from pearl diving journeys … how did their [lives] change as they began to provide for their family,” AlQubaisi shared. “I wanted to look at things and reconsider them… to disable the male gaze from historical accounts [through art].”
As part of her capstone project, AlQubaisi also drew a painting that was inspired from a photograph taken thirty years ago of her mother and friends. She noted that the piece exceeded a mere imitation of the original photograph as she was forced to ask culturally important questions of ‘what am I allowed to show’ and ‘what am I allowed to hide’ and “opened the dialogue of what [her] mother and her friends are comfortable showing.”’
Not being in London for her semester, Moza Almazrouei, third-year student at the Slade School of Fine Art, noted how such unique circumstances of the pandemic have prompted her to shift her concerns as an artist and problematize the ways in which the limited spaces in the art world operate:
“I’ve decided to focus on what is happening around me rather than replicating a place that I miss [through my art]. In the studio, you’re fixated in a space and not as aware of what's happening in the world... [and my concern is with] how can an art practice really contain a social dialogue beyond an artistic space and gallery for people who don’t have access to these artistic spaces.”
The artists revealed that art equips them to view different fields of knowledge in order to understand themselves, their surroundings and the larger systems at play.
However, during the event, the artists also felt the need to acknowledge the challenges that come with pursuing a career in the fields of art. Many shared their experiences with feeling pressured by their families into taking a double major or having back up plans as well as the overall uncertainty with opportunities after graduation.
“This decade marks a transformation that beckons an era of artistic excellency, excellence and mastery,” noted Maha Ahmed, Class of 2023. “ [and this has] only been made possible by UAE’s leadership, art patrons and youth.”
Aashraya Dutt is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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