I recently received a mysterious envelope at my door. The wrapping was addressed to me and labeled, ‘Precious Book.’ Inside was my reviewer’s copy of Mawahib, a directory of Emirati illustrators, graphic designers, and photographers compiled by Mariam Bin Natoof. In an age in which many talented creatives are forced to sign with a major firm in order to take home sufficient income to support a family, it is critical to support local freelancers and entrepreneurs as much as possible. A graphic designer herself, Mariam meticulously styled the directory so that each creative has a two-page spread, featuring examples of major work and a beautifully written biography, accompanied by contact details.
Mawahib includes several Emirati artists whose careers I have been closely watching (like Hamdan Buti Al Shamisi and Shaima Al Malik) and introduced me to others who I will be contacting for interviews in the coming months. I hope that the 2nd edition includes freelance writers and filmmakers too. I am regularly asked to recommend designers or photographers and will be referring to the directory regularly for this purpose. I have an unapologetic obsession with connecting like-minded people. In another life I might have become a matchmaker, a headhunter, or a film director!
Over Eid, Mariam and I sat down for a Q&A session and here is what we chatted about:
DL: How did the idea to create Mawahib come about?
MBN: I have seen different directories being produced in different countries such as USA, Canada and UK and always wondered if one would be available over here. So I thought, why not work on one by myself instead of waiting for someone else to do it. Plus I always faced difficulty in finding another designer, illustrator or photographer to either collaborate on a project or refer a client.
DL: In the directory’s introduction you mention that, “Mawahib hopes to encourage universities and colleges to focus more on these [creative] fields and nurture their students’ creative potential as job creators in the country.” I couldn’t agree with you more! What are a few of your brightest ideas for how that could happen in the UAE?
MBN: One of the skills that I think they should introduce in colleges and universities in the Middle East is the creation of products. These days it’s not just about designing on papers or exhibiting on walls—designers can develop actual innovative products that are functional and can enhance lifestyle.
I am really happy to see some of the featured talents in the book such as Aljoud Lootah who is a graphic designer has recently created an artistic furniture piece and Shamsa Al Abbar who launched her jewelry line presenting Arabic typography in geometric shapes. I think our education system should guide and push the younger generation in this direction.
DL: As a freelancer myself, I am often approached by companies or magazines asking for me to work for free exposure. I refuse to work for free and believe that other freelancers and creative ought to as well. What do you think about that idea and how do you think the business community can come to understand freelancers as professionals who should not be asked to work for free?
MBN: Personally I think freelancers should take a stand and stop offering services for free. I understand that when you just establish your work, you might want to build-up your portfolio and therefore you may need to do some of the work for free. However, when you know your work is good, you must draw the line and learn to say no. Unless Oprah Winfrey recommends your work, the free exposure over here doesn’t really add that much!
DL: How did your family react to your decision to pursue a career in the creative arts?
MBN: My family didn’t have any reservations about me pursuing a degree in Applied Media Studies. I had this one incident: when I was 18 years old I took a summer job at one of the banks, at that moment I just knew I didn’t want to do any routine desk work. I felt like I was dying!
Good Idea: To learn more about the artists profiled in Mawahib and to pick up a copy of the directory for yourself go here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of Mawahib and Khalid Mezaina, Shaima Al Malik, and Fatima Hilal.