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The UAE is home to glamorous buildings along with its stunning coastlines and breathtaking sand dunes. Amidst all this beauty, it’s no wonder that the country has incubated a collection of find Emirati artists. These creatives draw inspiration from the city around them and the traditions they grew up in. Furthermore, they interpret what they see in new and exciting ways for the public. In this post, we’ll highlight a collection of the top Emirati artists.
Zeinab Al Hashemi is a contemporary artist who often takes inspiration from Emirati cultural traditions. She has a unique ability to look at what is popular and then interpret it into something totally unique. She specializes site-specific installations and public artworks, which she refers to as ‘Construction Design Art’ that straddle the boundary between art and design.
Her work can be seen in the hotel lobby of Dusit D2 Kenz Hotel. It is an installation of a Dhow Sail that hangs from the ceiling. It is inspired first fictional work of Emirati literature (Shahinda) by Sheikh Rashid Abdullah Al Nuaimi published in UAE. The love story is about the title character’s relationship with the sea and the Desert which is depicted in the installation.
In 2016, she collaborated with Swarovski for a project “Hexalite”, an outdoor Kaleidoscopic Installation at Dubai Design District. The work was the centerpiece at D3 with Swarovski crystals and 33 hexagonal mirrored-steel structures that reflected after dark. No wonder, she is one of the top Emirati artists.
Hassan Sharif was one of the most prominent Emirati artists. He is known for pioneering conceptual art in the Middle East. His work is difficult to categorize, as he was constantly challenging himself to try new and unexpected ideas. In fact, this tendency led him to refer to himself as a nomad (a tongue-in-cheek designation, as he actually spent the majority of his life in Gulf). Some of his most interesting works were created using trash from the streets of Dubai – newspapers, ropes, cardboard boxes and threadbare cloths. All his work, from 1970 till his death in 2016, was infused with an intense energy that captured the hustle and bustle of the city. Truly, he was the grandfather of conceptual art in the Middle East and his influence is felt even after his passing.
Mohammed Kazem is one of Sharif’s best-known protégés and a famed conceptual artist in his own right. He works primarily with video, sound, photography and performance. A common theme in his work involves looking at transient phenomena, such as light and sound. He finds ways to make his work more tangible. It’s a fitting motif for a man who has lived his life in the UAE, and seen the many changes the city has gone through.
To learn more about the history of Dubai, check out our walking tour of Old Dubai
Abdul Qader Al Rais is an award-winning painter. A self-taught artist, he began his artistic journey by painting watercolours of the UAE’s landscape and architecture. He gained acclaim for these photorealistic paintings, that capture the likeness of the city in impressive detail. Eventually, he became drawn to more contemporary modes of expression. Today, he also creates abstract paintings incorporating Arabic letters. He uses small geometric squares which makes his work noticeable.
Abdullah Al Saadi‘s works span a broad range-paintings, drawings, found object sculptures and more. He grew up in the beautiful region of Khor Fakkan. The natural beauty and rural life of his hometown has informed his works. One of his most poignant works is “My Mother’s Letters,” a collection of objects – chocolates, rocks, string – that his illiterate mother would leave in his house as small tokens to let him know that she has stopped by. Many of his works involved some aspect of collecting and finding order in the rural world.
Ebtisam AbdulAziz is a contemporary artist whose works center around geometry and mathematics. One of her earliest and most memorable works – involved standing in a black bodysuit printed with bright green numbers taken from her bank statements. It is a searing commentary on the materialism that infects our humanity, and a brave artistic expression for an Emirati woman to make in such a public manner. Her works have continued to be bold and daring, while still maintaining her dedication to mathematics and systems
Maisoon Al Saleh is an Emirati painter in the surrealist style. Her works show a fascination with anatomy and contain a recurring skeleton motif. Her haunting paintings work to comment on Emirati culture, both traditional and modern. One of her most well-known works is an exhibition called The Dara Chronicles. It is a mixed media series that focuses on a ship that wrecked off the coast of Dubai in the 1960s. Al Saleh’s grandfather was a survivor of the incident, adding a special poignancy to the work.
The UAE is home to some fine Emirati artists who are pushing boundaries while paying homage to their traditions. Plenty can be learnt about the city through its artists and their works. If you’d like to know more, be sure to check out our Art Tours of Dubai, which take you on a creative journey through the city.