Game Changers

Meet the Emirati artist building an e-greeting cards empire

Five minutes with this rising woman.

By Sekka Editorial

Aysha Saif Al Hemrani, the artist behind Mnawrah. Photo courtesy of Aysha Saif Al Hemrani.

When was the last time that you went to pick a card to go with your gift, only to find that there aren’t many that reflect our Khaleeji culture? Though some Arab gift manufacturers have emerged, providing greeting cards, gift wrap and gift bags that reflect Arab pop culture, we are still lagging behind.

More importantly, there is a shortage of e-greeting card websites that reflect the culture and occasions celebrated by the citizens of the UAE and the remainder of the Arab Gulf States. In a world where invitations and greeting cards are increasingly being sent out via mobile phone messages, social media and email, local culture-reflecting greeting cards are needed.

Emirati artist and book illustrator Aysha Saif Al Hemrani is making it her mission to have e-greeting cards and art be personal, accessible and instant to all through her mobile app “Mnawrah”, which is available for download on the Google Play Store and the App Store. Through it, users can browse through the various e-greeting card designs, select what they like, type a personal greeting message and instantly share it with others. And the best part is it’s for free!

Some of the customizable e-greeting cards available on the Mnawrah App. Click on each to see it in a bigger size and read its caption.

The Mnawrah App also has a shop category, where users can purchase stickers, mugs, pillows, wall clocks, tote bags, beach towels, shirts and even shower curtains that reflect local culture and feature regional pop icons such as the late Yemeni-Saudi singer Abu Bakr Salem, all designed by Aysha herself.

We speak to the 28-year-old self-taught artist from Ajman, UAE, and discuss her Mnawrah App and art journey. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your e-greeting cards app. Is it because there is a shortage of Khaleeji inspired greeting cards?

Exactly! And because of the fact that many people ask me for customized work, which some think is simple but it does take from my time, therefore, my prices could be high for individuals. That is why I thought of making it simple for people to enjoy my work as per their preferences and customize it instantly.

Where are your app consumers mainly from?

Most of them are from United Arab Emirates since the content mainly reflects Emirati culture. But the second most users are from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. The number of active users is around 2,700 and the total number of customizations is around 11,300.

Items available on the Mnawrah online shop. Click on each photo to see it in a bigger size and to read its caption.

Do you do custom greeting cards for other Khaleeji nationalities and celebrations?

I actually just showcased the latest collection in the app for Saudi weddings. Many people contact me personally from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for special, direct orders.

What products do your consumers prefer?

Gathering invitations on my app, as well as wedding e-greetings. HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and late president of the UAE’s stickers are amongst the most popular physical items of mine.

Because of Mnawrah’s popularity with Saudi consumers, Aysha Saif Al Hemrani decided to launch a collection of e-greeting cards specifically designed for Saudi couples. Click on each e-greeting card to see it in a bigger size and to read its caption.

You draw celebrities and well known figures in society. Any reason(s) for that?

Well, other than the fact that I usually draw those who I admire the most, I also like to draw popular personalities from our region; those who might not have been captured as “cartoonish” characters before.

What inspires your art?

Disney films, most of the time!

Are you comfortable sketching by hand or by using a computer?

I’ve been a digital artist for quite some time but two years ago, I fell in love with the iPad since it’s easy to carry, and I don’t have to use more than two gadgets and a table to operate.

Aysha Saif Al Hemrani enjoys drawing well known figures and celebrities in the region. Click on each illustration to see it in a bigger size and to read its caption.

What’s the message behind your art? What do you want to show people through it?

I’ve always been amazed by the culture of ours here in the region since there’s a lack of representation of what is Emirati, in my opinion. This is why I try, as an artist, to document the pop culture of the UAE through caricatures, like those in my latest “Abaya Directory” or “Confessions of a Working Lady” collections. The latter aims to counter the rather negative stereotype about Emirati women ( i.e. that all of them live in  “palaces” and they’re “not as hard working”). 

Are we witnessing the emergence of more caricature artists and illustrators from the Gulf?

I am following plenty of them on Instagram, and I also meet them in the Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) every year. I am proud to see some of them collaborating with, or giving talks for, prominent global brands like Apple.

Canvas print artwork featuring working Emirati women.

What do you believe we need to do more of to encourage emerging artists from the Gulf?

I believe that if we focus more on the “domestic” approach in art, that will give us a powerful, unique voice in the global scene. Also, most of the global brands are moving towards “domesticating” their brands, and by doing that, the chances of a local artist to stand out using our heritage are high.

Your favorite Khaleeji artist.

Ahmed Al Refaie from Kuwait.

Your favorite art space in the Gulf.

Al Serkal Avenue in Dubai, which has many art-related events throughout the year.

Aysha Saif Al Hemrani’s artwork celebrates and features elements of local culture. Click on each artwork to see it in a bigger size and read its caption.

 If you could create an art museum, what sort of museum would it be?

It would be for contemporary art, of course, and it would showcase artists who might be undervalued in the region.

To find out more about Mnawrah and to download the app visit www.mnawrah.com .

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Sekka Editorial