ALLAN JACOB (ABU DHABI)
There’s a silent revolution coming to the surface in the UAE arts scene, and it’s travelling great distances while giving back to the community.
Kenaz Art Studio, that launched last month in Abu Dhabi, is taking art to the masses as it aims to become a driving force, quite literally, in contemporary UAE art. With local and international artists converging on its palette, it’s common knowledge that there’s a cornucopia of talent in the country, but the country’s first mobile art studio is going farther and painting a wider canvas in remote, rural UAE while unearthing a treasure trove of local talent.
And for Ghaleya Saeed Almansoori, the young Emirati creative brain and founder of the studio, the vast expanse of the desert, its shifting golden sands, and the hardy camel that trudges long distances through the arid landscape, are inspirations as she strives to make art accessible to more people in the farthest corners of the country.
The project has taken time, effort and patience to come to fruition and create a buzz in the country’s vibrant and thriving art scene, she tells Aletihad in an interview.
“We launched Kenaz on January 11, in Al Rahba Square. We had around 600+ participants from various age groups and backgrounds over the period of six days. Furthermore, we received several requests and interests to join in future programmes and festivals from various governmental and private sector organisations around the UAE,” says Ghaleya, who realises her idea has taken wheels and has vast potential.
To understand how far this studio has travelled from the seed of an idea, it’s important to turn to Ghaleya’s roots - in her favourite Liwa. A wave of nostalgia engulfs her as she talks of her childhood and the yearning to express herself through visual arts.
“I grew up in Liwa and Liwa is known for its wide golden desert, beautiful oasis, and camel ranches. I always loved going to our farm with my father to feed and play with the camels; I still remember Kenaz, a joyful camel that my father owned. My father taught me that the camel is a valuable symbol of the UAE,” she says, while staring into the distance into a time gone whistling by as the wind picks up in the background.
Those early years on the camel farm taught her a lot about “patience, strength and love”. Art stems from love and creative freedom, she seems to suggest, yet prefers to leave that unsaid. There’s also emphasis on patience and strength. So, from patience, strength and love came Kenaz. And Kenaz, she explains, originates from the Arabic word “Kanz”, which translates to treasure.
This writer struggles for one word that sums it up. After much thought, he comes up with “resilience”. Ghaleya credits her father for those early lessons in resilience as she pursued those flights of inspiration in art. “Growing up in a rural region was difficult for me as an art lover because I was unable to gain educational opportunities in the contemporary art due to a lack of art centres, events and workshops.”
That changed when Ghaleya’s family relocated to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, where she found more opportunities to grow as an artist.
She enrolled in art classes at a well-known cultural centre named Al Marsam Al Hor, where she learned the principles of her craft before she studied visual arts at Zayed University and graduated with a BA. There has been no looking back since then for the artist, educator and entrepreneur who went on to complete her Master of Arts in Art Education at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, US, last year.
Today, Ghaleya considers herself more of an art educator who is giving back to the community. There’s both wonder and a sense of contentment as she speaks. “Working in the art education field has given me the opportunity to share my passion for contemporary art with people of all ages and backgrounds, allowing me to both inspire and be inspired by their creativity,” she explains.
Initially, outreach programmes and interactions with people in rural communities sparked off the grand idea for a Ghaleya’s studio on wheels. It was a road less travelled, but the artist-entrepreneur knew she was on the right path.
“Communities in remote regions are clamouring for more art classes and art educational programmes,” she says, and her studio will serve their needs. She intends to travel often and create new artists, nurture them and give them a rich palette of colours for their creativity.
“Kenaz will travel throughout the UAE, from north and south to west and east, to raise awareness about the value of contemporary art and encourage more engagement in both traditional practices,” she says almost with visionary zeal.
Even today, when she visits her relatives in Liwa, in the western region, and in Fujairah, in the eastern region, she takes a full bag of art equipment with her.
“Without opportunities I personally would not have made it through all my years of study; these opportunities always broaden my views and made me think creatively. I hope every child and youth gets the same opportunity to express themselves and have the creative outlet that I had.”
The mobile art studio, meanwhile, is receiving interest from various government and private sector organisations around the UAE. Ghaleya now runs it on her own. “I fund the studio with my own money and with the support of my family,” she says with a smile.
The studio conducts artistic and educational programmes and workshops in traditional crafts and contemporary arts. The goal is to cover all members of society of all ages and in all regions of the Emirates.
With Kenaz Arts Studio, rural communities now have a platform to express themselves and use contemporary art and traditional practices to highlight social and environmental issues.
“I believe that having such a project can inspire individuals and communities to strive for self expression, empowerment, and development,” says the artist as she envisions increased interest from the wider community for her project.
The journey has only just begun for the young founder of the UAE’s first mobile art studio, but let’s just say it’s a stroke of genius.