Emirati artist Mattar bin Lahej has found success in his career so far, both locally and internationally, but that's not been without challenge. As a young self-taught painter, photographer and sculptor in the 1980s, he didn't find much help. "The government was not ready to support us," he once told The National. "There were no spaces for exhibitions, there were no dealings with artists directly and there were no maps of the arts, like there are now."
While times have definitely changed – and investment in the arts across the UAE has exploded – this generation of artists still has obstacles to navigate. In particular, the country lacks strong arts education initiatives and critique, says Buthaina, Mattar’s daughter, who runs the artist’s brand-new studio in Dubai.
Look through the photo gallery above to see more of the studio.
The father-of-six opened the gallery, Marsam Mattar, in 1991, in a bid to support and discover young talent. It was the first gallery in the UAE to be managed by an artist. Then he opened Mattar Bin Lahej Gallery on Al Wasl Road, where in 2016, Sketch Art Cafe also launched, offering visitors the opportunity to colour over their coffee cups when they visited the gallery. Now, in a renewed effort to reach out to the local artists' community, Sketch Studio has opened as an extension of the cafe.
The spacious studio, which is open to the public for 14 hours a day, offers all manner of materials to artists looking to try their hand at a variety of mediums, whether that’s painting, drawing, sculpture, mosaic or printmaking and even pottery. “It is a place of self-expression and discovery of various values of colours, colouring and the birth of creativity on the rhythms of drawing, sculpting and artistic composition,” says Buthaina. “It was created to complement our art mission and to fuel the path to our commitment and responsibility towards society.”
A place of discovery
The objectives of Sketch Studio, she says, are three-fold: to discover new and young talent; offer a therapeutic space in which to create; and to provide a place where artists can express themselves while enjoying great coffee. “The concept aligns with the fast pace of modern life,” Buthaina adds. “I hope to achieve an accessible space that is practical, and to also give our visitors the chance and space to explore their creativity in producing diverse types of artworks.” In the future, Buthaina also plans to host events that bring together both new and experienced artists.
The adjoining cafe also offers patrons a place to sit, gather and share musings with like-minded peers, all while drinking carefully sourced coffee. You can still paint on your paper cups, too, and every day about 10 to 20 are displayed on the Coffee Cup Wall of Fame, with one a month being printed and used in house. The chosen artist is then actively promoted on the cafe's social media platforms.
Unlocking artistic talent
No matter how small, it’s these kinds of efforts to encourage the next generation of artists that are important to Mattar. The studio exists, after all, to extend more opportunities to the community than Mattar had when he was starting out.
"I am passionate about helping others unlock their artistic talents," the artist explains. "Art is a fundamental element in every society, and providing an outlet for encouraging creative expression is of value to the individual and the community."
The proud father says this project is even more significant to him, as he’s watched his daughter flourish. “Buthaina has become the third generation of artist in our family, and I could not be prouder of her talent, commitment and contribution to the world of art in our region.” We can only hope this Mattar family determination and desire to develop the UAE’s art landscape continues for generations to come.
Open daily from 9am-11pm, Mattar bin Lahej Gallery, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah, 04 271 2603, www.mattargallery.ae