FEATURE. At the end of an overscheduled Wednesday in the midst of Berlin Art Week, Her Excellency Huda Ebrahim Alkhamis-Kanoo arrives breathless to our interview. The din of dealers hobnobbing with artists and collectors over espressos in a packed hotel lobby adds a degree of timeliness to our discussion.

“There is something I must tell you,” she says with a measure of unexpected intimacy, even before I can ask my first question. “In the arts, we need to be present on the international map. I am trying to invest in and strengthen this presence. In the Arab world, we talk to each other, we share ideas. But we need to speak more to the rest of the world.” Her voice is soft, but her message is as structured as the classic Chanel jackets she buttons up like a uniform most days.

As a preeminent patron of the arts in the United Arab Emirates, the founder of Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation—or ADMAF, Alkhamis-Kanoo’s endeavors over the past 20 years have led to the Foundation’s support of educational grants for artists and cultural programs for students, while fostering and legitimizing an intergenerational community of visual artists, writers, musicians, and designers in the process.

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Vogue Arabia October

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“We need to change the notion that a woman is a man’s property. We need to disassociate the idea that there is any honor in murder. The shame is on the murderer himself, not on the woman,” says Sheikha Lulu M. Al Sabah. The outspoken Kuwaiti is at the forefront of driving this change. She co-directs Abolish 153, a campaign launched in 2014 that advocates for the dissolution of legislation that seemingly excuses honor killings, rape, and domestic violence in Kuwait. The campaign’s other founding members are Dr. Alanoud Alsharekh, Sheikha Al Nafisi, Amira Behbehani, and Sundus Hamza, while Nawar Al Barak and Shoroq Burhamah came on board soon afterwards.

it’s her education, cultural background, and independence that drive her sense of duty to speak out on behalf of others Al Sabah shares. She holds degrees from the American University of Paris and Birkbeck, University of London, and prior to her commitment to the cause, she was a strong presence in the region’s art world.

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05-Vogue-Arabia-JulyAugust-17-A-Womans-Worth.pdf

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Architecture. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and demographically, the majority of the Muslim population is made up of young people. “You’d expect then,” suggests L.E.FT Architects Principal Makram el Kadi, “that when it comes to the architecture of Islam, which is the mosque, you would see much more experimentation and forward thinking. Our challenge from the client was to create a spiritual space using an understanding of Islam, but interpreted in a way that would speak to people living in our time.” Set in Lebanon’s picturesque mountain village of Moukhtara amongst several churches and a palace, the Amir Shakib Arslan Mosque, which was completed in 2016, represents a surprisingly updated take on a space with a timeless purpose.

Starting with an 18th century building that once served as a steel workshop, el Kadi explained, “To the heaviness of the stone, we added an ephemeral steel structure that takes the shape of a mosque but dissects it into a modern reading.” With a nod to the building’s past, el Kadi, his partner Ziad Jamaleddine, and their project team commissioned local craftsman to weld steel rods into a semitransparent minaret and inverted dome. Contributing more than just an ornamental flourish, large three-dimensional Arabic calligraphy braces the building. The minaret is marked Allah (God), while the box containing the inverted dome is inscribed with Insan (human)—daring those who pass to consider the symbiotic relationship between the sacred and banal, both in prayer and in ordinary moments of everyday life.

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Interview. Redemptive Narratives and Migrating Patterns, Samira Abbassy’s second solo at XVA Gallery in Dubai, is made up of early works on paper dating from Departed Lover in 2002, to recent diptychs on gesso panel and paper.

I reached the artist in New York during a ferocious electric storm that made the phone line crackle unpredictably as though we were participants in a strange séance. “We are made up of everyone who came before us,” she told me, referring to the female ancestors who—taken from Babylonian matriarchal cultures and Hindu iconography in relation to the goddess, Mother Kali—watch over the subjects of her paintings like spiritual doulas. They appear in the form of shrunken, wizened heads affixed to belts, shining in saintly halos, or even limp and doll-like in a lap.

DL: Are these self-portraits?

SA: Yes, but they are hopefully not narcissistic. They are not about me. My work is autobiographical but by accident. Because I’m a person living in this world at this time, I inevitably come up with subjects that are universal. I am painting different states that take place inside the body. I connect with Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, which says our brain contains a hard drive which is the same in everyone and is filled with genealogical knowledge.

DL: You’re sometimes compared to Frida Kahlo. Does that flatter or insult you? 

SA: I love her, but I feel like every time a brown woman paints a self-portrait, she is slapped with the Frida Kahlo label.

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