Curiously, 2017 was both the year of the naked dress and the year that the modest movement took flight. On one side, Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid flaunted their ultra-sheer fishtail gowns and on the other, former Vogue Arabia cover star Halima Aden took the fashion world by storm as the breakout model at the forefront of modest dress. The latter movement generates billions of dollars in annual revenue both in Muslim countries and beyond. Those who supported the naked dresses called women’s decisions to bare all empowering and even a feminist statement. No one mentioned dressing to attracted, repel, or subdue men.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s auditorium program manager, Noor Suwaidi – a painter and curator in her own right – saw her first original work of art at age 23 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. She says, “I studied art from slides and books. I had tears in my eyes in that gallery. Now I’m 36, and the fact that this is in my own backyard, right by my house, opens up a whole other dimension.”
It has taken a decade of behind-the-scenes footwork to prepare for the groundbreaking Louvre Abu Dhabi in Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District to finally open its doors to the public on November 11. The museum’s presence is intended to solidify Abu Dhabi as a cultural catalyst for the region, and will also give generations of locals and residents the experience of coming face to face with masterpieces – an encounter with the power to change the course of someone’s life. Some of the most remarkable members of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s team are Emirati women with impeccable educations and professional backgrounds. These include Suwaidi, as well as assistant curator Alia Zaal Sultan Lootah and registrar Najla Busit, who supervises logistics and installations of priceless works on loan from France. Hissa Al Dhaheri serves as deputy director.
I phone Al Dhaheri for an interview from Boston on the first icy day of fall. I picture her at the other end of the line tethered to a laptop at the close of the workweek, perched cross-legged on her overstuffed floral couch in the family majlis, the place she admits to spending all her spare time of late – that is, when she isn’t pulling a frequent all-nighter at the office. Al Dhaheri is a competitive perfectionist who doesn’t do anything halfway.
FEATURE. “I am a good listener, a kind of psychiatrist even,” says the Beirut-based wedding designer Ziad Raphael Nassar who likes to envision a couple’s dynamic even before envisioning the setting for an event. “Most people will speak a certain way about themselves, but in the end they are not like that. I often go out to dinner with them to see what kind of restaurant they choose, how they interact.” Nassar has become the go-to event planner for Arab royals and A-listers since founding his studio Once in 2009, and has designed more than 100 spectacular weddings in the region. His background as a advertising director and painter ensures that each is given individual flair.
“A wedding has to give a wow effect almost like a fairytale,” he says. “It’s not about showing how much money the couple has, but reflecting their personalities in a creative way.” Although the end result is invariably opulent, it can take a stretch of the imagination, and trust in Nassar’s skill, to picture the transformation at the outset, especially if the blank canvas is insalubrious.
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.