My UAE: The artistic dreams of Ahmed Alanzi

A profile of the Emirati artist Ahmed Alanzi.
Emirati artist Ahmed Alanzi, whose love of art was piqued by visits to Paris. Pawan Singh / The National
Emirati artist Ahmed Alanzi, whose love of art was piqued by visits to Paris. Pawan Singh / The National

Ahmed Alanzi is better known across the region as The Contemporary Bedouin. It’s a persona he adopted online to promote the UAE’s emerging art and culture scene in January last year.

Alanzi, 30, from Abu Dhabi, was one of 22 young Emirati creative professionals given the chance to develop their artistic and cultural entrepreneurial talents as part of Abu Dhabi Music & Arts ­Foundation’s inaugural Cultural Excellence ­Fellowship.

He originally developed an interest in the arts via his mother. “My mother is a mixed-media artist who was one of the pioneer ­Emirati women to have art exhibitions back in the UAE back in the 90s,” he says. “She explained to me [at the age of 10] that her art pieces were like her children, which was something that I mocked. She sat me down for a whole day to teach me how to draw a tiger. She made me sketch it over and over again. Since then, my interest in arts and design was sparked.”

Annual summer trips to ­Paris further ignited his interests. “While mum mingled with our friends in the cafes, I would sit with my sketch pad and water­colours, taking inspiration from the boutiques and streets of Paris.”

By the time he was 14, Alanzi had been commissioned for his first fashion-design job.

After graduating from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand with a double degree in environmental science and marine biology, Alanzi worked in the field for three years, before deciding to pursue his artistic dreams.

“I was browsing Facebook when I came across an advertisement about the Cultural Excellence Fellowship. What caught my eye was that the ad had [UAE furniture designer] Khalid Shafar on it as one of the mentors – I had so much respect and admiration for his work.”

Alanzi plans to combine creative disciplines in future pursuits. “I’m experimenting with innovative techniques to creative a fashion line focusing on the men’s bisht [cloak], and I am working on a collaborative exhibition with my mother,” he says.

What’s your favourite travel destination?

It used to be Paris, but I think I want to explore new destinations in the world, so I honestly no longer have a favourite.

What five things do you never travel without?

A Condé Nast travel guide, my favourite sunglasses, Neal’s Yard Wild Rose Beauty Balm [pictured], a “man clutch” and my leather travel valet tray.

Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.

I secretly want to be a singer.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Always educate yourself and be kind and humble. My mother gave me this piece of advice.

Who’s your favourite artist?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His story with his muse haunts me, and he captures her beauty in such grace.

What sort of car do you drive and what does it say about you?

I drive a Mercedes E200, 2014 model. Apart from its earth tones, it says very little about me. My dream car is definitely a Jaguar, followed by an Audi. I think attention to design and beauty is what I would go for in a car.

What is your favourite movie?

The Devil Wears Prada. I love Meryl Streep so much, and her portrayal of Miranda Priestly is amazing.

What do you do to relax?

I love yoga, listening to lounge music and taking long baths. Spas also relax me a lot, and it is important to take care of your mental health. I also love watching TED Talks.

Who’s your favourite author?

At the moment, I’m obsessed with Glenn O’Brien’s book How To Be a Man. O’Brien is a design and art critic and has an amazing show on Made to Measure fashion channel where he interviews designers and design icons. His style of interview is something I want to achieve some day.

If there was a movie made about your life, who would play the lead role?

Kit Harington. Actually I don’t really know, I have not thought about this before. Better yet, maybe a relatively unknown actor would be better.

What’s your favourite creative space in the UAE?

Fanr restaurant in Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi – it is one of a few, but it makes me feel stress-free and sets the mood for sketching new concepts and ideas.

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Published: July 21, 2016 04:00 AM


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