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20 Women at the Top of the UAE Art Scene
Their voices matter in Dubai’s art circles and beyond
Art Girls Jungle 19 Mar 2019

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, Art Dubai, the Sharjah Biennial…the United Arab Emirates is a major centre of the international art world. At its forefront, are a group of women championing the arts, from artists and curators to gallerists and the founders of collectives for young and emerging artists from the region, the UAE art scene is striving forward thanks to notable support from women.

To deep dive into the scene, we have picked 20 women whom you definitely should have heard of – as their voices matter in the world of art in the UAE.

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation – IG: @hooralq

11 Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi by Nato Welton

Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, Hoor Al Qasimi is also a curator and practising artist. She was appointed curator of Sharjah Bienniel 6 in 2003, and has since continued as the Biennial Director. Amongst many other positions, Al Qasimi also serves on the Board of Directors for MoMA PS1, New York and is President of the International Biennial Association.

Munira Al Sayegh, Curator – IG: @munira.alsayegh

6 Munira Al Sayegh

Al Sayegh began curating immediately after moving back to the UAE after completing her studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in 2012. She has curated exhibitions at Art Dubai Projects, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and U.A.E Unlimited. As a freelance curator, Al Sayegh points at the importance of non-institutional thinking and rhetoric in order to refine the voice of what local and regional art looks like from the bottom up.

Lateefa bint Maktoum, Founder and Director of Tashkeel

7 Lateefa bint Maktoum in her installation _Time_ at Tashkeel gallery during her solo exhibition New Chapter. 2017. Image courtesy of Tashkeel

Lateefa bint Maktoum is the Founder and Director of Tashkeel, a centre of contemporary art and design founded in 2008 providing specialist facilities for artists and desingers living and working in the UAE. As an artist, her work has been exhibited across the world, inclulding in Berlin, Venice and New York. She is also a contributor to the Art4Sight auction in support of Noor Dubai Foundation’s global programme for the prevention of blindness.

Chloe Vaitsou, International Director of Art Dubai – IG: @chloevaitsou

1. Chloe Vaitsou

Vaitsou has been International Director of Art Dubai since December 2018. Previously, she was Head of Audience Development for Frieze Fairs and has experience advising for private collections.

Moza Almatrooshi, Artist – IG: @mozaalmatrooshi

3 Moza Almatrooshi

Currently completing an MFA at London’s Slade School of Art, Moza Almatrooshi. Based between the UAE and the UK, her practice explores themes of observing change, impermanence and irreversibility in a geopolitical frame and context. Her work has been exhibited in Bolivia, the UAE and the UK.

Nikki Meftah and Dima Abdul Kader, founders of Emergeast – IG: @emergeast

4. Nikki Meftah and Dima Abdul Kader shot by Mai Almoataz

Founded in 2014, Emergeast is an online gallery that sells the work of emerging Arab and Iranian artists at affordable prices. Based in Dubai, the pair formed the platform when they found there was no immediate place to acquire art by Middle Eastern artists at prices a 20-something urbanite could afford.

Antonia Carver, Director Art Jameel  – IG: @antoniacarver

5 Antonia CARVER

As director, Antonia Carver oversees Art Jameel’s work across heritage, education and the arts. The organisation recently opened an Arts Centre in Dubai and will open Hayy: Creative Hub, Jeddah in 2020. Carver was previously director of Art Dubai (2010-2016) and has been based in the UAE since 2001.

Asmaa Al-Shabibi, Director Lawrie Shabibi

8 Asmaa Al-Shabibi

Asmaa Al-Shabibi co-founded Lawrie Shabibi with William Lawrie in 2011. Working with artists from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, she has put together over fifty exhibitions. Lawrie Shabibi’s focus on international collectors and institutions has led to acquisitions by Tate Modern, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the British Museum amongst others.  Prior to this Al-Shabibi was the Managing Director of Art Dubai from 2007 to 2010, initiating the Abraaj Capital Art Prize and overseeing the fair’s initial stages.

Sueraya Shaheen, Photojournalist and Photo Editor Tribe Magazine – IG: @sueraya_shaheen

2 Sueraya Shaheen

Based between Dubai, London and Washington DC, Shaheen is Photo Editor of Tribe Magazine, the only publication devoted solely to contemporary photography in the Arab world. She is also an art advisor specializing in fine art photography.  Shaheen trained at Sotheby’s Institute through the art and business course, and studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and at Parsons in Paris. She has organised a major exhibition on Arab Photography at the American University Museum in Washington DC.

Suzy Sikorski, Junior Specialist, Christies Middle East – IG: @mideastart

9. Suzy Sikorski

Suzy Sikorski specializes in modern art history of the Gulf region. She was a Fulbright Scholar in the UAE during 2016-2017, furthering her thesis at New York’s Fordham University by documenting the pioneer Emirati artists in their studios, which she continues to do. She has also written for The National, Canvas, Tribe, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia and ArtAsiaPacific, as well as her personal website Mid East Art.

Shaikha Fahad Al Ketbi, Artist – IG: @shaikhasees

10 Shaikha Fahad Al Ketbi

A graduate of Zayed University, Al Ketbi’s work has been exhibited in Armenia, Bahrain, UK, USA and across the UAE. She is also a founding member of the Public Art Collective, a group dedicated to the research and advancement of public art dialogue in the UAE.

Vilma Jurkute, Director, Alserkal Avenue – IG: @vilma.vj

12 Vilma Jurkute_Photo credit Celia Peterson 336A6862-Edit

Vilma Jurkute joined Alserkal Avenue in 2011 and is responsible for overseeing the Avenue’s physical expansion and the launch of Alserkal Programming in 2015, as well as the inauguration of Concrete and Alserkal Residency in 2017 as the director. She is currently pursuing an Executive MSc in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford, UK.

Maitha Abdalla, Artist and Founder of BAIT 15 – IG: @maithaabdalla

13 Maitha Abdalla

In 2017 Maitha Abdalla and two other artists founded BAIT 15, an artist run studio and exhibition space located in a residential neighbourhood of downtown Abu Dhabi.  The villa housing BAIT includes studios and hosts exhibitions, art talks and music and film nights.

Sunny Rahbar, Co-Founder, The Third Line Gallery – IG: @sunra77

14 Sunny Rahbar - Photo Anna Maria (1)

Raised in Dubai, Sunny Rahbar worked at Guggenheim Museum, New York at Sotheby’s in London, before returning to work with young and emerging artists in Dubai. In 2005 she co-founded The Third Line – a contemporary art gallery focused on building an internationally recognised platform for artists relevant to the Middle East region. The gallery has also expanded into non-commercial endeavours and a book publishing division called “Works on Paper”, which documents the work of contemporary Middle Eastern artists and seeks to increase their reach regionally and internationally.

Hind Mezaina, Artist, Writer, and Film Programmer – IG: @hindmezaina

15. Hind Mezaina. Image courtesy National Pavilion UAE - la Biennale di Venezia

Hind Mezaina’s work delves into themes of collective memory, the notion of heritage, and the representation of Dubai and the UAE in the media. Her work has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions in the UAE and abroad. ​ She is also the founder of the blog The Culturist​ launched in 2009, and co-founder of​ Tea with Culture​ podcast, ​ launched in 2015.​ Since the summer of 2018, Mezaina has also been curating film screenings for Louvre Abu Dhabi, selecting films in dialogue with exhibition​ themes or artworks in the museum. ​

Sara bin Safwan, Founder Banat Collective – IG: @srasfwn

16 Sara bin Safwan

Sara bin Safwan works as Assistant Curator for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. In 2016, she founded the online art platform, Banat Collective which focuses on discussing intersectionality and womanhood within the regional context of MENA through art and writing. The collective released its first collaborative publication in 2018 titled, ‘In The Middle of it All’, a 31-artist collaboration of visual art, writing and poetry. She is also currently a part of Art Jameel’s first edition of the Youth Assembly. 

Darah Ghanem, Photojournalist and founder of Halo Zine and Middle East Archive – IG: @darahgram

17 Darah Ghanem

Dubai-based Darah Ghanem is a writer, photographer, journalist and multi-disciplinary artist. In 2017 she founded Halo Zine, a digital publication that supports underrepresented visual arts from the MENA region. Ghanem is also the founder of Middle East Archive, a crowd-sourced digital archive that shares personal histories through family records from the Middle East.

Butheina Kazim, Founder of Cinema Akil – IG: @butheinahk


Kazim is the founder of Cinema Akil, an independent cinema platform in Dubai. A former Fulbright scholar of Media, Culture and Communication at NYU, she has been involved in programming cinema pop-ups which include Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Kazim is also the producer of short documentary “Letters to Palestine”, which was winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2010. 

Smita Prabhakar, Founder and Chairperson, Ishara Art Foundation

19 Smita Prabhakar, Founder of Ishara Art Foundation. 2018. Image by Augustine Paredes Seeing Things

With over four decades experience in corporate human resource management, Smita Prabhakar is a successful entrepreneur with a stellar business reputation – The Ishara Art Foundation is her contribution to the arts and culture in the UAE. A collector and patron of contemporary art, Prabhakar is currently on the Advisory Board of Art Dubai, a member of the South Asian Acquisitions Committee at Tate Modern, London, and is an International Patron of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

Sarah Al Agroobi, Artist – IG: @sarahalagroobi

20. Sarah Al Agroobi

With an MA from the Royal College of Art in London, Sarah Al Agroobi explores notions of culture and identity of both Middle Eastern and Western contexts. She is the co-founder of the Arab Art Salon, a ‘hypothetical space’ in London where Arab artists gather to engage in critical thinking and art discourse. Her work has been exhibited regionally and internationally at Somerset House, London, Salone del Mobile, Milan, Versus Art Project, Istanbul, Venice Biennale, Dutch Design Week and the ME Collectors Room, Berlin.

text by Lizzy Vartanian Collier

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