A Colorful Life

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, June 2016 issue

Emirati entrepreneur FATIMA AL SHIRAWI decodes color therapy and its many shades, writes PRIYANKA PRADHAN
VILLA 88 JUNE 2016 113-page-001
Download PDF here: https://www.scribd.com/document/321128083/A-colorful-Life

She lives, breathes and dreams in color. For Fatima Al Shirawi, hues have dictated every aspect of her life from home to work and from

her wardrobe to her inter-personal relationships. Perhaps this is why she chose to help people use colors to change their lives. “It’s been a very long and colorful journey,” says Fatima. “When I went to England to study fashion design, we had to take a class in color psychology and that’s when I was introduced to the world of color for the first time. It was an instant calling since the first day of my class and I’ve been mesmerized ever since.”

“When I came back to Dubai after my course, I realized this was something lacking in the market. People weren’t aware of how emotions could be associated with color. They didn’t know how in-depth the concept could go and how it could a ect various aspects of their lives. This was an opportunity waiting to be explored,” she says. This is how her brand The Gracious F was born.

Her client profile is truly diverse — ranging from age 26 to 50, working professionals to housewives, new moms to singles looking for love and from the newly wed to the newly divorced, who come looking for help to either change or simply enhance their lives through colors. The process is fairly simple. Starting with a general questionnaire about personality and preferences, a typical consulting session involves an in-depth analysis of the client as well as several color tests against their skin, to determine which palette suits them best. This palette is further customized into a personal color kit for the client, which can be used in their wardrobes, home interiors or workspace, depending on which area of life the client wants to work on.

“You also receive a full report on personal grooming according to your personality and body type- which colors to wear, hairstyles, fragrances, fabric, jewelry and make up choices, what careers suit you—it’s a complete lifestyle package,” she adds.

While working with clients to create personalized work and private spaces, she stumbled upon an idea to create a multifunctional piece for her clients— an interior décor project and her personal labor of love. “‘The object’ came about as a result of my own di culty while working in interior design,” says Fatima. “When I analyze an individual, I aim to customize and personalize their private space to the best of my ability. In the market, I couldn’t find something to match their individual personalities so I created something that my clients could use as an art piece in their homes and also something that was multi-functional. I further personalize ‘the object’ according to the client’s color individual therapy session.”

However, it hasn’t been the easiest journey to convince the market to buy into a concept that is fairly esoteric. “In order to create awareness about color therapy, I have been working on a lot of workshops and talks to educate people, which has in turn helped potential clients understand and try it for the first time, ” she says. “There was a considerable amount of skepticism when I started out first. I found that individuals are becoming more and more open to fresh, creative concepts to improve their lives as opposed to corporates, who are more hesitant to try something new,” adds Fatima. “In such a fast-paced environment such as Dubai, stress is a big problem amongst adults and they’re ready to try something new in their lives.”

The color therapy concept applies itself to the corporate world on a larger scale. Fatima will first assess the customer profile and target group of the store and carefully categorize them into groups. “We create each section for each type of personality. We blend in colors, textures and designs together to appeal to the customer profile or target group for the store. So when the customer enters the store, they automatically gravitate towards the section that appeals to them. For example, the majority of customers from the UAE, Levant and the Mediterranean belt are autumn personalities, so we can derive general characteristics of these personalities and determine the kind of colors they’re drawn towards.”

She may have scaled up her business by several leagues since she started in 2012 but she says her biggest achievement so far is something that cannot be quantified. “The feedback that I get and the happy faces of my clients —that’s the ultimate satisfaction for me and it keeps me going. They come in with questions and concerns and leave with a happy, positive feeling and that’s something that’s irreplaceable for me. My biggest achievement is seeing my clients’ lives turn around due to the positive e ects of color therapy.”

As for future plans, Fatima will continue to build The Gracious F and expand internationally, travel and acquire skills that will further enhance her work. With a wealth of experience, years of training as well as her inherent personal charm, Fatima aims to offer the world the ultimate color experience. http://www.thegraciousf.com

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Avenue for creativity

Published in DestinAsian Magazine, Indonesia; April 2016.

With its recent expansion bringing
in a wealth of new galleries and more, Alserkal Avenue has cemented its reputation as Dubai’s hub for contemporary art and culture. – Priyanka Pradhan

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Avenue for Creativity, published in DestinAsian Magazine,Indonesia.April 2016 issue.

Download pdf: https://www.scribd.com/doc/306416851/Avenue-for-creativity

 
Back when Alserkal Avenue was established in 2007, taxi drivers would wonder what their Louboutin-wearing passengers were doing, coming to such a neighborhood. Smack in the middle of nowhere—or, more precisely, Dubai’s Al Quoz industrial zoneit consisted of a couple of streets of corrugated-metal ware- houses set across from dusty auto shops and rusty hardware factories. Fast forward to today, and Alserkal Avenue has evolved from that rugged, industrial landscape into an arts and culture destination pinned firmly on the map of the city—and, with its recent expansion, on that of the region too.

Created by renowned arts patron Abdelmo- nem bin Eisa Alserkal, whose family has owned the area for decades, Alserkal Avenue’s modest, brick-and-steel aesthetic is a sharp contrast to the glitzy glass skyscrapers of Dubai. The rst gallery to set up shop here was the Ayyam Gal- lery (No. 11; ayyamgallery.com), showcasing new and old Middle Eastern contemporary art, soon followed by other well-known regional galleries such as Lawrie Shabibi (No. 21; lawrieshabibi .com) and Grey Noise (No. 24; greynoise.com). As the years rolled on, places like The Fridge (No. 5; thefridgedubai.com), an indie record company that organizes concert series and educational music programs, and The Jamjar (No. 74; the jamjardubai.com), which o ers workshops and a DIY painting studio for the public, joined the area, growing it into the mix that it is today: con- temporary art heavyweights alongside spunky, interactive creative spaces.

The Avenue’s recent expansion has seen it double in size to 50,000 square meters with the addition of a host of new galleries, places to eat and drink, and an OMA-designed project space that will open in September. “When we an- nounced the expansion of Alserkal Avenue, we pledged that we would use this opportunity to break new ground and stimulate new thinking,” says Alserkal, and the newcomers seem to be doing just that.

El Seed, the prolific French-Tunisian “calligraphiti” artist, installed himself in the Avenue’s first artist studio, where visitors can make appointments to come see his work known to juxtapose different languages, cultures, and identities. In another first, Swiss luxury watchmakers MB & F’s is making a splash as the only gallery of its kind in the Middle East, focused on kinetic art such as hand-crafted motorbikes, robot hands, and horology.

But the surest sign of the area’s success is the art-world power players who are moving in. While Dubai has yet to match the financial prowess of other contemporary art destinations such as New York, London, or Hong Kong, the international galleries flocking to Alserkal Avenue show that the future might be different. For example, the Avenue has just welcomed the New York–based Leila Heller Gallery,  a blue-chip gallery that’s a source for some of the most exceptional works from major 20th- century artists, Andy Warhol included.

“With the opening of many major museums and institutions in the U.A.E. in the near future, and the expanding design district and arts scene, the art world’s interest in Dubai is only increasing,” Heller explains. “And at the same time, the collector base here is growing, so it felt like the right moment to make a move here.”

“I was immediately attracted to the uniqueness of this district, where tire sellers and art galleries rub shoulders,” says Stephane Custot, whose Custot Gallery opened in mid-March. In its Paris and London locations, Custot has a legacy of fostering a dialogue between influential modern masters and international contemporary artists, and here in its gorgeous 700-square-meter Dubai outpost, it continues to do just that. In the inaugural exhibition,The World Meets Here, Robert Indiana’s textual sculptures and Marc Quinn’s giant metal seashells appear alongside hanging works from the likes of Miró and Picasso.

“The combination of Alserkal Avenue’s cheerful, diverse character and the large exhibition spaces available won me over, as I wanted to find a venue that could house large-scale sculptures and installations.” It seems that every tenant offers something different. The Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, a private nonzerofit museum, showcases the impressive American and European post-minimalist collection of the late Paris-based collector Jean-Paul Najar, set in Bauhaus-influenced architecture designed by Mario Jossa of Marcel Breuer & Associates.

On an entirely different note, Dubai-based gallery The Third Line moved here from its prior location in order to double its space (which now includes a lounge and screening room) and better support its 27 emerging contemporary artists, all of whom are Middle Eastern.

And it’s not just an appetite for art that Alserkal Avenue satisfies. Eateries have set up shop here—an outlet of Paris’s cold-pressed juicer Wild & The Moon; a soon-to-open artisan chocolatier, Atelier 68 —and fashion is making its way in too, such as the upcoming kimono boutique Chi-Ka.

In the words of its founder, “Alserkal Avenue is a home for dreamers, visionaries, and creative leaders who are looking to add to the cultural wealth of our region.” Needless to say, taxi drivers are no longer surprised by requests to come here.

The Crown Jewel

Published in Villa 88 spring 2016 issue

H.H. Sheikha Mariam Khalifa Bin Saif is carving her own niche in the jewelry world with her symbolic, contemporary designs and a touch of Emirati pride, says PRIYANKA PRADHAN

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 4.45.48 PM

Download PDF here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/303388113/The-Crown-Jewel

Not everyday does one come across a modern-day princess. Even rarer is the opportunity to encounter one who’s single-handedly making a huge impact in the entrepreneurial world.

As granddaughter of UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, she comes from a royal lineage but did not shy away from stepping into the very public domain of entrepreneurship by starting her own brand, MKS Jewellery, from scratch. “We were raised to work hard and achieve high goals,” says H.H. Sheikha Mariam Khalifa Bin Saif.

“Whatever we achieve in life is from our own merit. These principles helped me a lot. I knew that, in order to succeed in such a competitive market, I needed to work hard. Nobody was going to hand me a successful business on a golden platter.”

Not surprisingly then, she delves into the day-to-day affairs of her business from designing jewelry to packaging and communicating directly with clients on orders. With four collections comprising charms, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, pendants and rings, apart from made-to-order jewelry, it’s an exciting challenge for her.

Although running her own business had never crossed her mind, her inherent love for jewelry while growing up, played a major role in finding her calling and shaping her métier as a designer-entrepreneur. She recalls how she’d love to wear some of her mother’s jewelry and has fond memories of her first few brushes with jewels—such as a white gold heart shaped pendant gifted to her in her teenage years, which she still loves.

“One of the things I love most about designing MKS Jewellery, is that a part of what I have designed would be passed down to generations forever,” She says. “I am part of someone’s story, someone’s life. A necklace bought in 2016, one day in the future, someone would remember that their great-great grandma was gifted the jewelry from a significant other. Jewelry is a piece of art that gets passed down—a wearable art that has a story.”

Her designs are at once eclectic and contemporary. In 2013, she started MKS Jewellery to share her love for unique pieces that symbolize something meaningful for her and for the wearer. “Most of my designs are symbolic,” she says. “Maybe when I designed it, I had a personal meaning in mind, but when someone else wears or gifts MKS Jewellery, they may associate a different meaning to the design.”

“For example, one of my pieces is ‘the dove’ from the Geo Collection that symbolizes love, peace and hope. Another item from the same collection is the ‘Honey Bee’. As a play on words, I like to call it the “Bee Mine” necklace, pendant and ring, but perhaps the person wearing it could relate it to work or business—it could mean ‘busy bee’, for someone who is ambitious and hard working,” she adds.

Sheikha Mariam is also influenced by royal heirloom jewelry that she has seen since she was a child. “My grandmother has a necklace created from the pearls her father and grandfather collected,” she says. “It’s really old and beautiful. It’s a special piece because it’s rare to find natural pearls that are not cultured, old pearls prior to Japanese pearl farming. There is a tremendous value in antique Emirati pearl jewelry.”

This was the inspiration behind designing the Al-Otaiba collection for MKS Jewellery, which uses pearls from the UAE. Moreover, she produces all of her jewelry within the country, as a tribute to Emirati heritage. “We (the UAE) produce items of the highest quality, and as an entrepreneur, I find that whatever I need, the majority can be produced in the country, so why should we go abroad? I am proud of the items produced in the UAE,” she says.

“Pertaining to my brand, many people assume that we make everything outside,” she adds. “MKS Jewellery is a luxury brand, made in the UAE, incorporating other components of UAE heritage and products, such as our signature camel leather jewelry pouches, that we use for packaging.”

Sheikha Mariam also emphasizes the importance of engaging in the burgeoning local entrepreneurial community by exchanging ideas and exploring potential together. “Being an entrepreneur has given me an opportunity to meet and interact with many people and it opened up my circle of connections,” she muses. “Learning from other entrepreneurs and seeing results, both positive and negative, has taught me how to approach different areas of business.”

“It’s inspiring to see so many talented, young Emiratis are setting up their own businesses,” she says. “They are talented and have great ideas. More young people should turn these ideas into reality and I’m sure they will achieve a lot. It’s easy to sell from home on Instagram, without a shop, without going global. Opening a business like that is easy, but opening a business that people recognize, takes a lot of hard work.”

Going forward, H.H. Sheikha Mariam Khalifa Bin Saif is planning to make MKS Jewellery a globally recognized brand. Unafraid of challenges or the fear of failure, she parts on a pensive note. “Someone once asked me if I ever experienced failure, and I told her that I have never failed!” she asserts. “Even if I failed in my business, I wouldn’t consider it a failure. I would consider myself a failure if I had a dream and never pursued it, or if I gave up on a dream.”

As she winds down after a long day with her usual chai haleeb, Sheikha Mariam embodies the spirit of enjoying life’s simple pleasures, staying grounded and working hard. She truly is is one ‘busy bee’ that inspires—on the shelf and off it.

MKS Jewellery can be found at the jewelry department,Bloomingdale’s Dubai, The Dubai Mall, Abu Dhabi Dutyfree Airport and Mosaique UAE. You can also shop at the online store mksjewellery.com/shop

 

Life of L’Afshar

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, Spring ’16 issue

A homegrown Dubai label reveals how it has influenced global fashion, says PRIYANKA PRADHAN

afshar 1-page-001
Download PDF: https://www.scribd.com/doc/303185958/Life-of-L-Afshar

She’s no ingénue on the global fashion stage. In just two years since its birth, Lilian Afshar’s accessories brand, L’Afshar, is loving the spotlight in the luxury retail world. Her dragonfly bug detail box clutches have made it to the pages of fashion editorials in French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times Magazine, and not to mention, into the hands of editors and bloggers from New York to Singapore and from Georgia to Australia.

A look at her extensive list of global stock lists makes one wonder how this homegrown Dubai brand rose to instant fame. “Oh Instagram!” she says. “It played a huge part in creating awareness across the world and sparking interest from boutiques, fashion editors and bloggers. It just happened so organically and naturally… none of it was pre planned. But apart from exposure, it also translates into sales because a lot of boutiques contact me to stock my clutches in LA, Singapore, London—from everywhere. When I ask them how they heard about my brand, they almost always say Instagram! It leads to private sales and customizations as well.”

But what is it about her clutches that catches the eye? Perhaps her 25,000 social media followers will be happy to answer that. It could well be the materials she chooses to work with. She managed to turn industrial-use elements such as marble and glass to craft delicate box clutches and emboss them with her signature emblem.

However, it hasn’t been the easiest journey for the designer. “I had to literally force the factories into creating the clutches for me,” she explains. “I had to look for industrial product makers because the kinds of materials I was using needed heavy machinery and techniques. These factories were not used to working with things like clutches or accessories—they used the techniques for huge walls of massive slabs of uncut stones so I really had to convince them to do it.”

Even the process of creating each of these clutches is remarkably unique. The colors are in liquid form when they are mixed on an industrial sized sheet for that marble effect. The marble swirl look on the clutches are created by hand, so each clutch is unique and by default, no two clutches can be identical. As a majority of her clients are from the Middle East, she also takes special care to cater to customizations such as names in Arabic on her clutches, making them even more exclusive and personal.

“I also want to experiment with unique and colored stones, maybe a rare marble,” she says. “It’s always a challenge because factories can’t use too many colors and options are limited, but its about find a way out.”

Speaking of challenges, Afshar’s main hurdle was the lack of any business background, to run her own label. But with help from family and by continually re-inventing herself, she now enjoys her multitasking life as an entrepreneur. “I’m not just a designer now,” she emphasizes. “I take charge of the creative side but also manage day-to-day business and run the brand. No two days are alike and I love that! Some days I’m in the factory when my hair is a mess and I’m sweating, while on other days I’m at a photoshoot. If I had just one position or role, I guess I’d get bored or maybe stagnant… perhaps because I’m a Gemini.”

Next on her radar is costume jewelry, using the same industrial materials and techniques that shot her clutches to fame. Soon, she is also looking to mix leather handbags with her box clutches—another intriguing juxtaposing of forms, textures and shapes.

Her inspirations and influences are at once minimalist, simple and bold. She admires labels such as The Row and would love to see one of her clutches in the hands of actress Jennifer Lawrence. Judging by her popularity amongst international stylists and editors, this might just happen sooner than later.

As she takes off to prepare for a more proximate dream, a bridal collection of clutches from L’afshar, one can’t help but observe her ethos as a designer— inventive, avant-garde, and transformative— precisely what her signature dragonfly-bug stands for.

lashfar.com

 

Download PDF: Within The Palms. Published in VILLA 88 SEPT 2015

Within The Palms

Published in Villa 88 Magazine, AW 2015 

Emirati artist and designer Latifa Saeed attempts to revive the UAE’s traditional crafts through industrial design and art

Words by Priyanka Pradhan

Download PDF: Within the Palms. Published in Villa 88 Magazine,  September 2015

Download PDF: Within the Palms. Published in Villa 88 Magazine, September 2015

How can design trigger nostalgia? How can design make tradition relevant?”

These are some of the questions that ran through the mind of interdisciplinary artist, Latifa Saeed, before she embarked upon a unique concept to bring industrial design and tradition together. The Emirati artist’s latest design installation project, Kinetic Khoos, is a series of sculptural toys for children—a concept that aims to revive the traditional Emirati craft of toy making by using natural raw material such as khoos or palm fronds. She hopes the project challenges one’s perception of a traditional craft to recognize its relevance today.

“Traditionally, palm leaves and fronds were used to make fans, food trays, food covers, baskets, mats, houses and boats,” she says. “Fronds were even bound together and lined with pitch to make water tanks. An inconspicuous use for palm leaves was children’s toys—I remember when older women used to show us how to play with them when we were young, showing us techniques on how to build a fan and make it fly, to weave a thick piece of fresh palm leaf strip, and palm dolls dressed in the sheila (headscarves) and thoab (traditional dress); it brings back memories, emotions and laughter.”
VILLA 88 SEPT 2015 Extensive research into the different types of weaves led to artistic exchanges with local artisans and offered her an insight into how traditional artisans work, fabricate and survive in the modern world. According to Saeed, the sharing of passions and ideas created an interesting dynamic between her and Sheikha, an artisan she collaborated with, on exploring ways to connect the contemporary to the past.

As part of the Design program for Contemporary art organization, Tashkeel, Latifa Saeed was selected for a second time to represent them at Dubai Design Days 2015 with her Kinetic Khoos project.

“It took about two weeks to complete a single toy from the collection, starting from design to industrial machinery to assembly,” says Saeed. “For the limited edition crab, which is part of the collection and is sold out now, it took almost two months to produce each piece.”

But the most challenging part of the project was learning the ropes of industrial manufacturing on the go. “It was difficult to convince the industrial manufacturers at first because the concept was new and unheard of—it was difficult for them to understand the idea, especially without a sample product at hand,” she says. “Also, sourcing materials and finding artisans who are willing to have their work artistically manipulated was a tough challenge.”

But “persistence and refusing to give up” made sure the project ran to fruition.

Her previous project, Braided, was also supported by Tashkeel and showcased at the 2014 City Scape exhibition as part of Dubai Design Days last year. Inspired by hair braids—a very popular traditional hairstyle for children in the Emirates, the project saw her crafting a collection of furniture using braided linen cushion tubes upholstered in a wooden frame.

Unable to find a child-friendly and functional headboard in the market, she created her own design by experimenting and re-imagining the classic buttoned headboard. She then developed the technique of braiding linen cushion tubes and gathering them into clusters to create a padded surface of an organic pattern.

Infact, it was a picture of a headboard using her ‘braided’ concept on Instagram, that caught the attention of Sheikha Lateefa, founder of Tashkeel, who offered to mentor her under the Tashkeel Design Program last year.

VILLA 88 SEPT 2015 057-page-001Her commissioned work entitled Pleated Chair for Tashkeel, followed her experimentation with the headboard and went on to win positive feedback at Dubai Design Days 2014.

While her work so far has been fairly diverse, using vastly different concepts and materials, she says what she’s currently working on is even farther away from what she’s ever done before. “It’s confidential,” she says. “But let’s just say we will have a presence at the upcoming Dubai Design Week (26-31 October 2015) where more will be revealed,” she adds mysteriously.

Saeed’s ability to work in different disciplines without allowing herself to become restricted by a certain material or methodology is reflected in her attitude and free- spiritedness. “I can never have a favorite piece, discipline or medium to work in,” she says. “I’m wholly in love with whatever I’m working on at the moment but I know my next project will be even more fascinating!” www.tashkeel.org

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

With Love from Dubai

Published in Conde Nast Traveller August- September 2015

Shiny malls are all very well but what about when you want to shop like a local? Priyanka Pradhan reveals some of the best regional brands.

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

Download PDF: With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

When endless excursions to a daunting network of malls unearth the same souvenirs, done-to-death brands and boring keepsakes, it may be time to dig deeper. On your next trip to Dubai, take your pick from the UAE’s homegrown brands and products that are inspired by local culture, yet have a markedly global appeal. More than 202 nationalities make up the multicultural milieu of the UAE so expect a heady cocktail of influences on brands that are ‘Made in the UAE’. From Azabaijan to Africa and from travel to confectionery, the UAE is inspired by the entire world – and these ‘glocal’ wares make for memorable and meaningful take-aways, both for yourself and as gifts.

Micaroon
Inspired by the vivid colors of her favorite French confectionery, Lebanese-born founder Rima Khoreibi set up this cosmetics brand that is colorful in both, product and packaging.
Micaroon’s range of products including lipsticks, blush ons, accessories and body butter are named after popular local icons such as the Burj Khalifa and Arabic words like Ashq.
www.micaroon.com


Bambah Boutique:
Dubai’s first and only high-end vintage boutique, Bambah sources one-off pieces from across the world. The boutique stocks period clothing and trinkets and owner Maha Abdul Rasheed’s own  ready to wear collection, which is a throwback to 50s’ glamour.
www.bambah.com

Nadine Kanso

Both as a photographer and jewelry designer, Nadine Kanso explores ideas of Arab identity and culture. Her jewelry collection, ‘Bil Arabi’ (which means, Ín Arabic’) collection takes inspiration from the Arabic alphabet  with words and phrases incorporated into 18 carat gold, and embellished with precious and semi-precious stones. In her second collection, Nadine K complements Bil Arabi with limited edition home accents, clothing and art.
www.nadinekanso.com

House of nomad
The name of this contemporary fashion label is a nod to the original inhabitants of Dubai, who travelled from one temporary desert dwelling to another.  Co founders, Qatari Ahmed El-Sayed & Emirati Saleh Al-Banna typically use a single color for each collection creating sleek collections for men and women including sweaters, skirts and jackets but the main focus is on luxe sportswear.
houseofnomad@gmail.com

Saray Couture turbans

This Dubai-based independent label, Saray’s handmade turbans and accessories are influenced by the Arab world’s heritage as well as western vintage style. The Azerbaijani founders of Saray draw inspiration from women who style their ensembles with regal turbans – Sheikha Mozah HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar, late Elizabeth Tailor and Barbara Streisand have all been fans of headwear.
www.saraycouture.com

Posearazzi
In their fusion wear collection, Emirati sisters, Hanan and Hessa Ozair, combine local sensibilities and western design. Think abaya-style trench coats and rib cage shrugs. The sisters draw inspiration from art, architecture and sub cultures in the Arab world to produce only five limited-edition pieces of each design.
www.posearazzi.com

RAK pearls
The UAE has been producing fine pearls for over 7000 years, from a time when free divers would jump off specially made boats with nothing but turtle-shell nose-clips to find pearl oysters. Natural pearls were amongst the country’s biggest exports until the discovery of oil in the 1940s. Now, the industry is seeing a revival thanks to the efforts from RAK pearls Holding, which harvests around 40,000 pearls annually offering treasures from the Arabian Gulf, that are truly unique to the UAE.

Choose from natural Blue Baroque Keshi pearls, the very rare black pearls or the high-quality, iridescent cultivated variety of pearls seen at jewelry brands such as Mouwad.
www.mouwad.com

Neemah Fragrance
Kuwaiti perfumer, Mohammad Neemah’s inspiration comes from his travels abroad but his sensibilities are deeply rooted in the Arab world- a characteristic that comes across in all his fragrances.

Some of his bestselling fragrances include ‘Laya’, meaning ‘Lady’, which is inspired by the orient and ‘Chateau Rouge’, which is inspired by stories of a free-spirited Arabian princess. Popular amongst Middle East cognoscenti, Neemah’s fragrances for men and women are also custom made for those who like to personalize their scent or the packaging.
www.neemah.com

Mastiha Shop – Dubai
Mastiha, a natural and rare tree resin that is native to the Mediterranean region and grows on the Greek island of Chios. It was documented as one of the first natural cooking spices and is a key ingredient in everything from coffee to medicines.

At the shop, you can happily while away a few hours choosing from a variety of mastiha flavored candies, cosmetics, shakes, massage and bath oils.
www.mastihashop.com

Al Khazanah
Camel leather is already known for its character and texture, but Al Khazahnah tannery based in Abu Dhabi aims to take it a few notches up by establishing it globally on par with luxury calf leather. The tannery designs its own handbags, wallets, briefcases, travel bags and accessories in different types of camel leather, including an easily biodegradable variety produced specially by them.
www.alkhaznahboutique.com
Al Nassma camel milk chocolates
The premium chocolate brand offers the first and finest camel milk chocolate, made in Dubai. Al Nassma describes its chocolates as not overtly sweet, with a hint of caramel and honey along with a mineral touch, which is characteristic of camel milk. The milk is sourced from a local farm where the camels are treated ethically and even given regular pedicures!
www.al-nassma.com

Dubai Perfume souk- Deira
No shopping list from Dubai can be complete without the traditional Arabic attar perfume oils from quaint little shops along the bylanes of old Dubai. Beautiful, vintage-style cut-glass containers in different shapes store concoctions of flower-based attar and the popular oud, perfume oil derived from one of the most expensive variety of wood in the world.
Many of these perfumers offer to mix and match oils and scents to customize the fragrance according to the preferences of customers, so you can get yourself a lovely bespoke scent.  A must-have for the perfume collection back home, for the unique fragrance and for well, an essence of the UAE.
Sikkat al Khail Road and Souk Deira

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

With Love From Dubai- Published in Conde Nast Traveller India (Aug-Sept 2015)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar
The appeal of vintage fashion lies in its heritage, rarity and ingenuity, while its exclusivity is guaranteed by a premium price point. T Emirates investigates the growing popularity of vintage fashion as an investment opportunity.

By Priyanka Pradhan

The Vintage Couture Bazaar- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

The Vintage Couture Bazaar- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

Is buying a 1940s vintage couture gown as solid an investment as purchasing a Matisse masterpiece?

Yes, if vintage couture experts are to be believed.

Seeing the demand and appreciation in value of vintage couture at high-profile global auction houses, more investors and fashion-conscious folks alike are trying it for size. According to research by online resource vintage textile, which aims to educate and inform enthusiasts, vintage clothing benefited investors more than any other collectible category in the period 1990-2012.

The source gives the example of a Chanel women’s suit from the 1960s, which went up from $805 (AED 2,957) to $3,220 (AED 11,827) in less than six years (quoted prices are actual realized prices at major auction houses). This works out as a 300 percent appreciation over 6 years, or 20 percent a year.

A more recent example is a Charles James evening dress that climbed from $29,900 (AED 109,826) to $49,450 (AED 181,635), yielding a 65 percent appreciation, in two years.

As in the case of art investment, the ingenuity and rarity of the collectible play a major role in determining the price tag attached to the item.

But more specifically for vintage couture, the designer, period, fashion house and story or narrative of the item are just as important.the iconic little black dress designed by Givenchy and worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s sold at Christie’s for $923,187 (AED 3,390,958) in 2006, while the estimated value was only between $98,800 (AED362,902) and $138,320 (AED 508,063).

Similarly, ‘The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” in 2011, in the Christie’s “online-only” section, made a record $10 million (AED 36,731,000) in a series of

sales that made a total of $183.5 million (AED 673,995,473), showing the stellar demand for vintage fashion today.

According to Clare Borthwick, specialist at Christie’s vintage couture department, there’s growing mass appeal for vintage fashion, and the business is being fueled not only by seasoned connoisseurs and collectors but also by people influenced by Hollywood.

She says: “The wardrobes of film stars and generational legends often attract great attention at auction and command the highest prices due to their status as memorabilia rather than purely fashion pieces. We have, however, sold some memorable pieces of vintage fashion, including the personal collection of

Coco Chanel in 1974, as well as a 1966 YSL ‘Mondrian’ dress that fetched £30,000 (AED 163,961) and a 1939 velvet evening jacket by Schiaparelli that made £73,250 (AED 400,337) in our last vintage couture sale in 2012.”

Borthwick says they also see a lot of buyers from the Middle East, owing to significant interest in “modern vintage”, paying particular attention to luxury handbag auctions, specifically labels such as Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

Apart from the high-profile auctions, vintage bazaars in discreet nooks and street corners of the world are also doing brisk business, but on a smaller scale.

Although the UAE is a bit behind the times, according to Dubai-based vintage boutique owner Maha Rasheed, the business is catching up, with increasing awareness of the nuances of vintage fashion in the region.

Rasheed, who runs Bambah Boutique and sources authentic vintage items from across the world from LA to Japan, says: “Perceptions are slowly changing, and

people are becoming more comfortable about wearing vintage and pre-owned items in the Middle East. If the items are impeccably restored, maintained and presented, one does not mind that the item is not brand new. Celebrities and movies have also made more people aware of vintage fashion, and there’s no taboo in buying worn pieces.”

She adds, “Even pre-owned or pre-loved items that are not vintage per se have a big market here in the Middle East, and I think it’s a good trend!”

One such “pre- owned” items’ fashion boutique owner, Dubai-based Micha Maatouk from Garderobe, says her customers are highly fashion-conscious, affluent, and know their vintage Birkins from their Kellys.

“While we do get a few good vintage pieces from 30 to 40 years ago,” she says, “we mostly deal with pre-owned luxury and designer items as young as 10-15 years. These are consumers who don’t like to be seen in the same designer dress, shoes or accessories more than once or twice and so sell their piece to us for half the price. We at Garderobe then split the profits with the consignee in a 50-50 agreement. So yes, they get to clear out their closet every season and get about half the price of the item back.”

Apart from the aesthetic value of the items and the history associated with them, the price of pre-owned fashion then becomes a key factor for her customers.

“The prices of these items could vary,” she says. “You could sometimes find a 30-year-old Valentino gown that originally cost easily more than AED 25,000 at less than 20 percent of the price now, but then you could also end up paying more than the original price of a designer vintage handbag that is not available any more, or has an endless wait-list at the brand’s store. I’d say the pre-owned market is increasingly becoming an important part of the vintage fashion movement.”

But because the authenticity of vintage items is difficult to assess, and they can sometimes be challenging to find or even uproariously expensive, “vintage-inspired” fashion and jewelry has come under the spotlight in a big way.

Inspired by the vintage era from the 1920s to the 1960s (by definition, items from before this period are considered “antique”, but the term “vintage” is being more loosely translated in today’s context), these fashion and jewelry pieces attempt to capture the cuts, colors, prints and essence of the vintage era for a slice of nostalgia, but without the price tag of the original vintage pieces.

Laurent Cathala, vice-president, emerging markets at Tiffany & co., says, “Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation movie, ‘The Great Gatsby’ has created strong interest and demand for 1920s-inspired jewelry.“Although Tiffany & co. does not offer vintage pieces for sale,” he says, “many of our designs are based on the original sketches and collections found in the Tiffany archives. These designs highlight the timeless beauty and unerring quality of Tiffany designs. These archival pieces also transcend fashion trends and hold great appeal for discerning customers.”

He adds, “In addition to Tiffany’s Great Gatsby and Blue Book Collections of fine and statement jewelry, we introduced this year the Ziegfeld Collection. Also inspired by the same Jazz age, it is named after New York’s legendary Ziegfeld theatre, a model of Art Deco architecture that opened in 1927. The jewelry captures the period’s elegance with freshwater cultured pearls, black onyx and sterling silver.”

Similarly, Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Jaeger-Lecoultre does not sell its original vintage timepieces, but helps verify the authenticity of rare vintage watches for its customers and also restores vintage Jaeger-Le coultre watches in its workshop in Switzerland. Certain factors of the vintage watch are then considered while evaluating the piece.

Stéphane Belmont, marketing and technical director of Manufacture Jaeger-Lecoultre, says: “In the case of an authentic vintage watch, the

watch has a story related to previous owners, a story of transmission of the piece. When a very small quantity of pieces were produced in a certain era, the offer of those vintage watches in the market is very limited today. Where the demand exceeds the supply, the price of the vintage watch goes up every year. The rarity of the watch depends on the quantity, exclusivity, quality of the movement and functioning of the watch, and its aesthetics.”

It is this quality and exclusivity that the vintage business is founded upon. In an age of global retail chains and uninspired, off-the-rack fashion, vintage couture has an undeniable appeal and immense value, as an asset.

The character of Carrie Bradshaw from the popular TV series, Sex and the City couldn’t have put it better: “I like my

investments where I can see them… hanging in my closet!”

True Grit- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

True Grit

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine ( July August 2013)

True Grit

The glamorous Ingie Chalhoub, widely recognized as fashion’s first lady in the Middle East, is carving a successful niche in the region’s luxury retail market as head of the Etoile Group.

By Priyanka Pradhan

True Grit- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

True Grit- Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (July 2013)

It was at a quaint art gallery in Dubai’s financial district that I first met Ingie Chalhoub. I had heard of her, of course, but what I discovered that day was that

even the chief of the luxury retail firm ‘Etoile Group’, has butterflies in her stomach before every show. I could tell that by the way she paced the floor as her designer label’s Autumn/Winter 2013-14 press preview took place at the same gallery, on a grand runway created especially for her.

She then ascended the ramp, after a little coaxing from her team, to take a bow and pose shyly for the cameras – quite unlike the intimidating persona I had expected.“There is always great excitement but also some stress before any seasonal launch of the collection,” Ingie says. “All the preparation is tiring and energetic at the same time. I am a perfectionist and I feel extremely conscious about every single detail.”
As I also came to realize that day, the ambitious, influential and rigorously detail-oriented Ingie Chalhoub is also exceedingly charming, and truly humble.

even as she single-handedly navigates multimillion-dollar deals every other day in the fiercely competitive Middle East luxury retail market, she carries herself

with rare panache and a certain je ne sais quoi that makes her all the more intriguing.
As president and managing director of the Etoile Group, which operates more than 70 luxury boutiques in six Gulf countries, and as creative director for her eponymous designer label, she has her hands full. But 30 years ago, when she opened the first Chanel

boutique in the Middle East, she didn’t know she was making fashion retail history.
It was serendipitous that the franchise deal was finalized on her wedding day, making her big day even bigger. The groom happened to be Patrick Chalhoub, scion of one of the most established business empires in the region and son of the illustrious Michel and Widad Chalhoub. Having married into a powerful lineage of retail moguls, and with the advantages that come from being part of the influential Chalhoub family, Ingie set out to make a remarkable debut in the regional retail industry and to carve out her identity as a persuasive entrepreneur and luxury retail powerhouse in her own right.
In the years that followed, she worked hard to build credibility and earn the confidence of global luxury retailers such as Christian Dior, Tod’s, Hogan, Valentino, John Galliano, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Lacroix, and she came to be credited with making a huge contribution to the

UAE’s luxury retail segment.
But before one can call it a charmed life, Ingie says it’s been far from easy. The Gulf War in 1990 changed things irrevocably for Ingie, as her Chanel and Dior stores in Kuwait were looted during the conflict, and her business ran into the ground. But despite the devastating loss, she pushed herself to pick up the pieces and get to work as soon as the Chalhoubs moved to Dubai after the war, even with a newborn baby in tow.
After relocating, Ingie quickly became a formidable retail empire. “Challenges test your mental strength; you need to turn them to your advantage.

Let obstacles motivate you to strive even harder. I am now even more driven and determined to reach more milestones and push myself further,” she says.

The motivation to go on, she adds, came from her supportive husband and her inner resilience. She not only had the task of rebuilding her business from scratch, but now also had the additional responsibility of being a mother, and had to manage the two roles – a balance she describes as most challenging.
“I would say balancing a personal and family life with a professional one is probably one of the most difficult challenges businesswomen face. You need to be disciplined, organized and efficient with your time, and set boundaries, not just for employees and your business colleagues but even for yourself!”

But just as things were settling down, the global economy, and subsequently the Middle East economy, was hit by the tumultuous financial meltdown.

The luxury retail sector was in the eye of the storm, but the Etoile Group showed remarkable resilience at this time. The mood in the retail industry may have been very somber, but just then, in 2009, Ingie launched her own luxury designer label, Ingie Paris, a move that showed nerves of steel and sparkling self-confidence.
Inspired by French sophistication and old-world glamour, she applied her sharp business acumen and innate sense of style to create a capsule collection for the

essential “Ingie” woman, someone she envisions to be a lot like herself.
“The Ingie Paris woman is refined, modern and dynamic,” she says. “My designs cater to her multifaceted, playful nature, interests and lifestyle, from dramatic, glamorous eveningwear that she might don for a red carpet event to chic yet comfortable daywear she can wear to a museum or show off at a relaxed brasserie. That is why I think the collection appeals to women across all cultures; they understand luxury but want it interpreted in a contemporary manner that suits their

international lifestyle.”
The launch of her own label was yet another dream realized for Ingie, but, not one to rest on her laurels, she’s now hoping to expand internationally through

luxury retailers and eventually have more standalone stores. For the Etoile Group too, she says, the emphasis is on expanding horizons to focus on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
The Ingie Chalhoub success story has been peppered with setbacks, but she has overcome the hurdles each time, due to her dedication and strong belief in herself, something she hopes will inspire other female entrepreneurs and businesswomen.
“[You need] hard work, passion and a strong vision of what you want that can never be downplayed. But there are also those things that are part of one’s character that can also help you to succeed. For me, it’s a strong eye for detail, and my creative ability. I have the ability to look at something and know immediately whether it’s right or wrong, or what needs to be changed; it’s a skill that is rare.”

She adds: “You also need to believe in yourself. We are often our own worst critics, but we need to focus on the positive, as self-belief is a key factor in order to succeed.”

Storyteller- By Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (May 2013)

Storyteller

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (May 2013)

Storyteller

He has sold more than 250 million books in the course of his career, but author Jeffrey Archer’s success has been punctuated by introspective pauses and even some arresting question marks. T Emirates unravels the persona of a writer who continues to thrill and entertain at the age of 72.

By Priyanka Pradhan

Storyteller- By Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (May 2013)

Storyteller- By Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (May 2013)

It may come as a surprise that the man who has authored many a Machiavellian scheme and plenty of meandering conspiracy theories is, in person, a hard-as-nails straight talker. He’s also quite a number-cruncher for someone who is so entrenched on the literary side of the world. He rolls off numbers, figures and statistics with the ease of a seasoned marketer.

“I have to say my figures are very cool,” he says, comparing his latest book in The Clifton Chronicles Trilogy, with his last published novel in 2009. “For my last book, hardback sales were up 40 percent, e-book was up 26 percent and softback was down 7 percent.”

But then he suddenly floors you with his witty, animated (and somewhat geriatric) charm. He worries as he predicts a bleak future for bookstores in the face of competition from the e-readers and Kindles of the world.

“If this [trend] continues, soon there will be hardbacks and Kindles, no paperbacks. Next, hardbacks will go and Kindles will remain, and sadly bookshops will go too. I much prefer to hold the physical book and read the old-fashioned way, but looking at the statistics, it’s going to be very tough on bookshops.” His voice wavers with emotion, but only for a moment, before the shrewd marketer within him reappears.

“Personally, this trend doesn’t affect me, because more people are reading me now on the digital platform than ever before, so no, it doesn’t affect me as a writer – look at my readership figures, for example. In the digital world today, it’s the bookshop that will be affected, not the author,” he says.

According to Archer, there’s a positive side to the democratization of the publishing world.

Today,” he says, “anyone can showcase his or her talent on the digital platform by being a self-published author or even a blogger. So yes, I’d encourage young talent to get going by themselves. If I had had this sort of opportunity back in the day, I would have adapted to whatever was needed, as I always have.”

Archer has picked up a few survival skills along the way, to maintain the momentum of his success. One of those skills happens to be his sharp marketing acumen, something he acquired the hard way.

“In my first experience of promoting my book Kane and Abel on an American TV talk show,” he recalls, “I learnt that time is money. I was on the show with other guests such as Billy Carter and (believe it or not) Mickey Mouse, and we all had just six minutes to share between the three of us.

The first two guests had taken up 4.5 minutes by the time the host said ‘Hi Jeff, I see you came over on Concorde,’ and I answered. ‘Yes, indeed!

The Concorde – it’s a feat of mankind built by the British. It’s twice the height and speed of any aircraft built by man so far.’ I rambled on, ‘You can have breakfast in London, lunch in New York and dinner in….’ and I was cut off by the host saying ‘That’s great. Thank you, it’s been lovely having you on.’ My publishers were livid.”

Looking back to his early days, Archer says his main literary influences were American author F. Scott Fitzgerald and English writer Richard Crompton, but there were also others. “My all-time favorite remains the classic, The Count of Monte Cristo– it is a masterpiece. Of late though, I’ve been reading

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared and the Hilary Mantel book, Bring Up the Bodies.”

What interests him most in the books he reads (and writes), he says, are people and characters.

Being a steadfast admirer of the late Margaret Thatcher and an ex-politician himself, he says he always writes strong female characters, drawing inspiration from the women in his life, and the villains in his books are inspired by politicians he has come across.

“Most of my own characters are based on people I know, because then they become more real to me and to the reader. Also, people even inspire me to write – normal people I meet everyday. You see, stories are in people… sometimes they just don’t know it.”

So, then, there’s no writer’s block for Archer, one would imagine? He confirms: “No, I never experience writer’s block, because I’m a story teller… and

characters and stories are everywhere! Another thing is that I don’t plan a particular plot more than two pages before I write it – mapping things out in detail beforehand really scares me. It’s a hell of a risk, but it’s a lot more fun if I don’t know, otherwise the plot may become predictable and stale for me and for the reader.”

Archer’s last 16 books have all been interntional #1 bestsellers, and his top-selling work, Kane and Abel, is on its 97th reprint. He was recently in Dubai at the

Emirates Literary Festival 2013 to promote his latest book, the third in his Clifton Chroniclesseries, which he hopes will surpass his previous record. Does he feel under pressure to outdo his previous accomplishments, then? “

Of course there is pressure when I sit down with a pen,” he agrees, “and it gets worse in a way, because I am expected to churn out another number one with each book. There’s always pressure, but what I think any author must do is not buckle under it and do what is popular or fashionable at the moment – don’t just toe the line. Remember, Jane Austen came from a small village and she wrote about a mother trying to get rid of her daughter by way of marriage. It was a great hit. Next, she wrote about a mother trying to get rid of four daughters! But you see, Austen was a genius because she didn’t move with the fashion of the day – she stuck to what she was great at, and did it exceptionally.”

Another strong motivation for Archer is recognition, though not necessarily by way of literary awards or prizes. “I have won awards in France, one in Germany

and one in the us, but I have never won anything in England and I never will, by the way. I am what is known as an ‘entertainer’ in the UK, and I’m not allowed to be a storyteller and win a prize – only ‘writers’ win prizes in England, and I’m happy this way. I’m happy that my books are read by the masses. In fact,” he sums up, “if you asked me ‘What do you want in life, Jeffrey?’ I’d say I want to be read by more people than any other author on earth.”

When the medium becomes the message: Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (March 2013)

When The Medium Becomes The Message

Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (March 2013)

When The Medium Becomes The Message

Exploring Art Dubai for sound, visuals and other forms of digital media that are shaping the rise of the new media culture in the Middle East.
By Priyanka Pradhan

When the medium becomes the message: Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (March 2013)

When the medium becomes the message: Priyanka Pradhan. Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (March 2013)

From the re-creation of a quaint Iranian cafe scene from the 60s using spliced up black-and-white movies, to an abstract sound artwork that enquires “Where does dance go when it dies?”, there’s a lot of new media art to be discovered at art Dubai this year. The regional creative community is increasingly experimenting with new media to give a fresh perspective, testing out technology and even adding a sense of humor to the somber mood that seems to permeate the regional art space today. Globally, a democratization of art has spawned the rapid growth and influence of new media art in the span of the past two decades, but in the emerging Middle East art market this liberalization of art mediums is only beginning to be explored and understood.

One cannot find a better example than inter disciplinary artist Joe Namy’s his work at Art Dubai. He is using the medium of sound to explore traditional forms of dance in the UAE, and the roots of electronic music.

“I feel I am working toward a new conception of listening, by re-examining the basic mechanisms for how we understand sound,” he says. “The tools and techniques I use are appropriated from everyday technologies developed for listening. My approach to sound is mostly rooted in music, not necessarily in music itself but everything around music: history, economy, distribution, consumption, identity, etc. there are so many issues wrapped within the role of music in our society and how we listen.”

Namy is among 50 new media artists out of the 500 artists that are exhibiting their works at Art Dubai.

Antonia Carver, Fair Director, Art Dubai, says: “Many new media artists are coming, particularly from Beirut and Cairo, but also increasingly from the rest of the Gulf. It’s a growing trend and more artists and collectors are becoming interested in this form of expression. Earlier, only institutions were collecting new media art because people usually don’t think of buying a sound piece or a video artwork for their homes. But now more private collectors are trying to understand the medium. You can, as buyers, buy rights to reproduce new media art and have your own share in that artwork.”

Valuation for new media art usually takes into consideration the format of the number of limited editions and rights to reproduce thework. “It’s a bit hard to get your head around it because the new media artwork may be a CD, which you may use and show sparingly, but then the artwork becomes even more special, because you’d be one of only three or four people in the world with the right to own, show and reproduce that CD.”

Antonia adds, “It goes up in value over time, obviously, as the artist grows to be known better and as the influence of new media art grows, as well.”

This potential is attracting regional gallery curators and collectors, as is the intrigue of the new medium itself. Umer Butt, co-founder of Grey Noise, a new gallery based in Dubai, says: “Moving image is becoming an important part of contemporary art practice. It is overlapping cinematic choreography. It’s interesting how material becomes your content. Material exploration is something I’m very interested in, and the visuals my artists are making are very diverse in their language.”

But this new-generation artwork could sustain itself in the Middle East, if it succeeds in stepping out of the “new fad” bracket. Antonia emphasizes a rise in demand from institutions and collectors within the UAE, saying: “Patrons such as Sultan Al Qasimi of Sharjah, who has been investing in video work for the Sharjah Foundation, are encouraging new media art in the country. There is demand, and the medium itself is also well suited for this region, as taking this form of art to some places in the Middle East is much easier than bigger art forms. There’s ease of transport for new media artwork which, I think, is fueling the growth and influence of this category of art, especially in the Middle East.”

More importantly, new media art is allowing artists to express themselves remotely and influence a larger audience through technology.

Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal, who is known internationally for his online performance-based and interactive works on international politics, says: “The artist no longer needs to be confined to a specific place in order to express him or herself. The audience too needn’t be in a physical place to experience these works of art. New media allows people to create and become their own distribution channels. New media is really helping to drive social change throughout the world. People’s ability to access democracy is emphasized with mobile gadgets. I think advances in technology and mobile devices lend themselves to that trend. If we think about it, the medium becomes the message itself. It enables people to have a greater sense of connectivity.I ’d call this the thumbnail generation effect.”

Some of Bilal’s most prolific work includes art created using a camera, surgically implanted on the back of his head, to spontaneously transmit images to the web, 24 hours a day, as a statement on surveillance. In 2010, in his work titled “…and counting”, he used his own tattooed body as a medium, by depicting a map of Iraq with dots that represented Iraqi and US casualties in invisible ink, seen only under a unique black light.

But while new media art has appeal for artists and collectors, it has also faced challenges. According to Bilal, “One of the challenges for new media art is the limitations imposed on the freedom of the platform itself by limiting the access to a site or amount of activity that an individual can create online. This is a politically driven idea of censorship. For instance, you do not censor a person from broadcasting or downloading things but you do censor the amount of downloading. This is driven by larger entities beyond the public control or interest. If the platform is not censored there’s a greater opportunity for people to engage others and create work that’s not limited to a physical existing institution.”

Namy adds: “The current scope of new media art is reflective of a wider trend of culture production in the region, with artists working as best as they can in the absence of proper infrastructure. Institutional support – governmental, academic, museum and gallery spaces – for sound/art is dismally limited, and sound/art is not easily ‘monetised’ like sculpture or painting, so most of the sound artistsI know are self-taught and rely on peer support, having to travel outside the region for education and exhibition opportunities.”

However, the adversity faced by new media artists is paving the way for a powerful voice.

Namy says: “I’m not trying to reinforce the cliche of the struggling artist, but the lack of support forces us to be more innovative.”