Collage by Shamma AlMansoori

Exhibition Review: Khaleejiness At Manarat AlSaadiyat

The Khaleejiness exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat invites viewers to redefine their understandings on gendered expectations, diasporic belonging, love and communal Khaleeji identity.

Oct 31, 2021

On Aug. 31, Khaleejiness, an exhibition at the [Manarat Al Saadiyat’s Photography Studio] ( exploring the Khaleeji identity and what it means to today’s youth debuted in collaboration with SWALIF Publishing House. There is a 20 AED entrance fee, but students can get 50% upon presenting their university IDs.
Banners of the Khaleejiness Exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Courtesy of the SWALIF team.
The exhibition showcases ten artists curated in SWALIF’s first book, Encapsulated Volume 1: Photoessays on Khaleejiness, and provides a space for young artists in the Gulf to explore their personal relationships with the Khaleeji heritage. Artists used a diverse range of mediums, primarily photographs, videos and installations which inspired questions surrounding the Khaleeji identity.
Visitors writing on the wall at the exhibition. Courtesy of the SWALIF team.
The exhibition invites viewers to think, reflect and interact with artworks that concern masculinity, diasporic identities and intimacy of relationships, both with the community and oneself. An example of such is a wall that prompts visitors to grab sharpies and scribble on it their thoughts on the exhibition.
Nadi AlHabayeb’s love letter experience. Courtesy of the SWALIF team.
Glass bottles are handed to every visitor as a part of artist Abdulaziz AlHosni’s piece titled Nadi Al Habayeb, The Lovers’ Club. Every glass bottle contains a sheet of paper carefully wrapped with a string. The instructions are simple: write down a love letter and place it on the shelves. This immersive experience allows visitors to express themselves freely without the fear of consequence, which lines up with the artist's intentions. The music playing in the background, curated by AlHosni, displays nostalgic elements and its association with warmth and happy happenings.
A piece that drew me was Ali Al Hosani’s installation. The piece portrays the pressure placed upon the youth to constantly play a predefined role which demands an image of what being Emirati looks like, regardless of whether that role feels authentic or not. The installation opens to a room that mimics a greenroom: on the table sit scripts and face paint and on the chairs lie costumes that AlHosani recontextualizes as a metaphor for performance, passing and conformism. The mirrors prompt the visitors to reflect and question the social expectation to pretend. The definition of Khaleejiness continuously evolves, the exhibition invites the youth to participate in personalizing their definitions of the Khaleeji identity.
SWALIF: Behind the Exhibition Founded by Salem AlSuwaidi, [SWALIF Publishing House] ( is an independent art collective which aims to inspire young creatives by providing them with a platform through which they can actualise and showcase their ideas and projects. As AlSuwaidi explained what inspired him to start Khaleejiness, the first project launched by the collective, he mentioned that the word Swalif means conversation.”Ever since I was a kid, my family would always make jokes about how I always had a ‘Salfa’ to talk about or ‘Swalif’ here and there. This talkative nature of mine followed me into my adolescence as my friends would notice I enjoy debates and arguments,” AlSuwaidi shared. “Was I Emirati enough? Was I Khaleeji enough?” asked AlSuwaidi. “I started to notice that other youth felt the same as me and so that is where it clicked: the first project I wanted to create was something that explores this internal conflict we face with our identity.” SWALIF plans to continue harbouring and creating discourse around art and literature, with a strong focus on aspiring and emerging artists.
The Khaleejiness Exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat brought to the public eye young, undiscovered artists working to challenge tradition and preconceptions. It harbored conversations on identity and belonging, as well as what it means to be a part of the Khaleeji society. Reflecting back on my visits to the exhibition, I find myself charmed by the uncomfortable invitation into the imaginations of these artists. In their artwork, I see reflections of myself, my friends and anyone who has doubts when it comes to their place in the Khaleeji society.
Dhabia Al Mansoori is a Staff Writer. Email her at
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