Budding Emiratis design success path in art world

Alongside famous artists and galleries, a group of Emiratis had the chance to give their careers a major boost during the Abu Dhabi Art show.

ABU DHABI // Young designers had a thrilling chance to see their work displayed alongside some of the biggest names in the business during the Abu Dhabi Art fair at the weekend.

Works by Picasso and Matisse, as well as the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren and Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor, adorned a makeshift gallery inside the Emirates Palace.

In the hotel's gardens, a four-metre high installation of red aluminium letters spelling out the word LOVE was positioned opposite a vintage Fiat Cinquecento, gripped by a giant stainless steel hand.

But amid all the attention-grabbing art, a small group of Emiratis aimed to make a name for themselves after they won studio space at the four-day fair, hosted by the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC).

Khalid Mezaina, 25, from Dubai, has been doggedly pursuing a career in design since he graduated in 2006. It has been a struggle, until this weekend.

"In the UAE, it is more difficult to make it in design," he said. "It is not as well established [a field] as art and there are no design houses here. Most designers find work in publishing houses or advertising."

Mr Mezaina was working full-time at Tashkeel Studios in Dubai when he heard about TDIC's competition giving away a studio space at the fair. When he won, he decided to use the platform to launch his "dream", a series of affordable products bearing his prints.

"I have always wanted to have my own business for my designs," he said. "So I wanted to use the opportunity of starting at the art fair."

His most striking print is a replica of a playing card of a Queen wearing a burqa and holding a henna plant. It truly represents Emirati pop culture, he said.

"It is important because a lot of people have this impression that Emiratis have generic ideas or that we are all the same. They're surprised and proud when they learn I'm Emirati. Everyone's different."

As well as being part of the Design Studio, Mr Mezaina, whose designs are marketed under the label Krossbreed, was also one of four Emirati designers picked to create their own interpretation of Abu Dhabi Art's bracket shaped logo.

Over the summer, TDIC selected designs submitted by local artists and produced a range of T-shirts, mugs and canvas bags on sale in the fair's merchandise store, Artyfact.

Mouza al Mazrouei, 26, from Abu Dhabi, designed a logo bearing the red and white distinctive pattern of a ghutra. It was a small contribution that could go a long way.

"This small thing can make a bigger impact than the huge pieces of art you see in the gardens," she said.

"This is a real piece of art designed by an Emirati and it is what people from outside will remember. They will come and see the big fancy names but they will take home our work.

"Most people can't afford the art at these fairs but they can afford the merchandise. When they get home they will use the bags or the mugs and they will say, 'I got this from Abu Dhabi', and it will bear my work. That's enough to have a big influence."

Ms al Mazrouei represents a collaborative group of five artists, called Mizmah Art Group, and said the exposure would help them all.

"It is good for local artists to participate in the art fair in this way because we are helping to develop it," she said. "The more involved we are the more we start to own the fair.

"It doesn't matter that I don't make money from my art at the moment. It's not about income, it's about the love for the art and the country you represent."