Popular Dubai studio for artists with disabilities to reopen after last year’s shutdown

Mawaheb art studio will open in a new location from early next year in creative corner of city

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A much-loved art studio for young adults with disabilities that shut down last year is set to reopen in early 2022.

The decade-old Mawaheb was affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its closure in October last year disheartened the tight-knit special needs community.

The artistic studio, the name of which that means "talented" in Arabic, will move to a larger space in Dubai’s Al Quoz neighbourhood from its original home in the historic Bastakiya area of the emirate.

Our new location will be a hub for culture, innovation and talent
Wemmy de Maaker, director of Mawaheb

“It was exactly a year ago that we had to make the most difficult decision to close Mawaheb. It has been a time of reflection ever since and now it's time to reconnect with the students, their families and our partners,” Wemmy de Maaker, director of the non-profit art studio, told The National.

“Personally, I'm very excited for the people of determination and their families and grateful that we are once again able to offer a place where they can develop their skills and reach the best of their potential.

“A place where they can make friends and integrate with others. A place that will facilitate awareness about equality, acceptance and inclusion.”

Artists with Wemmy De Maaker, the studio's founder, before it shut down. Photo: Mawaheb

The new studio, which caters for students aged 18 and above, will open in GC Avenue in Al Quoz and was made possible through support from the family of a Mawaheb student.

The previous space was divided into several rooms around a courtyard, while the latest plan has bigger areas in which students can work.

It will include a 3,000-sq ft cafe, double the size of its predecessor, and a workshop where people with special needs can meet and participate in activities.

A spacious warehouse next door has been set aside for art training sessions supervised by professionals and life skills courses for young adults with disabilities.

The studio will have a lot of space for the students to work, dance and do yoga,” Ms de Maaker said.

“The cafe will get an industrial chic look, providing a warm and comfortable atmosphere for leisure and to work.”

The studio has nurtured several talented artists over the years, some of whom held solo exhibitions and earned their own workspace in art galleries in Dubai.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 18, 2017:     Vinayak Commar serves coffee at the cafe within the Mawaheb studio in the Al Fahidi historical district of Bur Dubai in Dubai on September 18, 2017. The studio is a place that allows adults with special needs to work on their art, sell their art and serve customers at their cafe. Christopher Pike / The National

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News of Mawaheb’s opening has spread fast with 15 students already signed up.

Indian artist Sharan Budhrani was delighted to learn about the reopening.

“It will be the greatest beginning to the year 2022,” said Mr Budhrani, who was this year awarded a long-term golden residency for his cultural contribution to the UAE.

“It’s a great opportunity for all of us. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Mr Budhrani has muscular dystrophy that weakens his muscles and restricts mobility. He uses remote-controlled cars, spoons and sticks to paint on large canvasses while seated in a wheelchair.

Volunteers have held online sessions to keep the community engaged over the past year but the students are looking forward to meeting old friends and learning new skills in the new studio.

“The last year has been very difficult,” Mr Budhrani said. “Seeing people online was good but it will be amazing to have a studio again.”

Ms de Maaker hoped more students would sign up to explore their talent in the studio she described as “a safe, inspiring and accessible place for people of determination”.

Al Quoz in central Dubai has been the focus of redevelopment work since the announcement of the vision for the cultural sector by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

“Our new location will be a centre of this destination and a hub for culture, innovation and talent,” Ms de Maaker said.

“The creative zone aims to attract both regional and international audiences to the area and encourage artists to live, work and exhibit in the area, which is part of efforts to engage the community.

“We want to connect with society and inspire everyone to do their best.”

Renovation will start soon and the space will be ready by the end of the year in time for the opening in early 2022.

For more information contact: wemmy@mawaheb-dubai.com

Updated: October 19, 2021, 7:05 AM