Portrait of a Powerhouse

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.

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