Sheikha Alyazia sells painting to aid Pakistan relief

For a decade now she has been painting in the hopes of bridging cultures and fostering understanding.

Sheikha Sheikha, along with her brother Sheikh Mohammed, help their mother Sheikha Alyazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan in painting artworks.
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ABU DHABI // The artist is rarely seen in public and declines to be photographed, but each work bears her distinctive signature: a canvas buckled by its broken frame.

The ritual is conducted before she even picks up a brush, when Sheikha Alyazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan turns the blank portion away from her and smashes the wood with her knee.

These are serious projects for the 25-year-old daughter of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. The sale of one painting recently raised more than Dh1 million for relief efforts in Pakistan and another is to be given as a state gift.

"Through art, you are not limited to a set of words or expressions," said Sheikha Alyazia. "You leave the interpretation of the message to the receiver."

For a decade now she has been painting in the hopes of bridging cultures and fostering understanding. One work, for example, depicts forgotten Emirati artifacts in an attempt to preserve and revive interest in local history.

"I like history, and I like media, and so I experiment with and explore these two passions through my art work," she said.

Gentle and soft spoken, the mother of three often ends up painting alongside her children, who like to copy her every move. Her three-year-old daughter Sheikha Sheikha doodles on her own canvas next to her mother, with her two-year old brother Sheikh Mohammed often joining in.

"She likes to use the same oil paints as I, and if I try to switch them around, she notices and wants my paints," said Sheikha Alyazia, smiling.

Sheikha Sheikha also likes to inform visitors which pieces in the house were created by her mother.

"Mama!" she says, pointing to a photo on a laptop of her mother's latest work, The Journey, which is out on exhibition.

The oil painting incorporates three symbolic artifacts of the UAE: from the Iron Age a camel, featuring a prominent saddle, illustrating the growing importance of the domesticated animal to the people of the Arabian Peninsula; a bracelet circa 1000BC illustrating leisure, wealth and women's role in society; and an arrowhead dating back to 300BC depicting the struggle, the hunt andthe masculinity of Sheikha Alyazia's ancestors.

It was painted in bold red and blue over seven 39cm by 39cm canvases - representing the seven emirates - and is one of 39 pieces on display at the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi, part of the recent National Day celebrations.

All 39 pieces, each by a different Emirati artist, will eventually be presented as state gifts to visitors.

"In art, titles don't matter, it is about the final creation and whether or not it touches people and makes them reflect," said Sheikha Alyazia.

As the daughter of one of the country's leaders, she has always been encouraged to explore other cultures.

She has visited most of the world's biggest museums, some of them several times, coming back to a home retouched by her various explorations.

Every corner of Sheikha Alyazia's palace tells a story. In one sits a three-piece head rest dating back to the Ancient Pharaohs' time, which she represented in one of her own paintings to underscore the importance of having "the complete" picture.

"Each piece of the head set on its own is useless," she said. "You need all three pieces for the set to work, so no point on just focusing on one part."

Renaissance art work, calligraphy, Indian and Persian miniatures, ancient maps and family photos, are among the items on display alongside the young Sheikha's art work.

Her painting in honour of the Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation, sits high on one of the walls. She has painted his face looking on from between the clouds on to the coast of the UAE.

Like Sheikh Zayed, Sheikha Alyazia is also dreamer. Among her hopes for the future is the launch of a travelling museum, a boat that would carry artwork from local talent and dock for exhibitions in different cities around the world.

"There is just no limit to creativity and art," she said. "You learn something new everyday about the world, and about yourself."