Arts & Culture

New Khaleeji Art Museum show celebrates Gulf culture

Six Gulf and Gulf based artists and photographers take part.

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By Sekka Editorial

Games Night by Nasiha Manekia, as projected on the world’s largest outdoor projection in Dubai Festival City. Image: Courtesy of the Khaleeji Art Museum.

In Haitham Al Farsi’s photograph titled Hospitality, the 34-year-old award-winning Omani photographer skillfully captures a fellow Omani man pouring Arabic coffee for his guest. Through the photo, which showcases traditional hospitality habits that are still practised everyday and which Haitham has captured variations of across Muscat and Oman’s Al Sharqiyah Region, the young photographer, who has had his photos featured in publications such as National Geographic and Sekka, says that he is hoping to, “show the world how our people still hold on to their culture, and to teach the new generation how to do so.” 

The photograph forms part of Khaleeji Culture, a new art show organized by the Khaleeji Art Museum- the first digital museum that is dedicated to showcasing the work of Gulf artists and photographers- that opened in Dubai Festival City last week. The show features the work of six Gulf and Gulf based artists and photographers, including Abdulaziz Alhosni, Dhafer Al Shehri, Nasiha Maneika, Zoya Al-Kaff and Fatema Abed. It forms part of the Museum’s ongoing collaboration with Dubai Festival City, which first began in February, to showcase the work of Gulf and Gulf based artists and photographs on the world’s largest permanent outdoor projection, in order to celebrate them, and further popularize their work. Khaleeji Culture is the eighth art show. Previous shows have included Eid Amid Covid-19Ramadan and Food Culture

Hospitality by award-winning Omani photographer Haitham Al Farsi. Image: Courtesy of Haitham Al Farsi.
Alkhubaiti Folklore by Saudi photographer Dhafer Al-Shehri. Image: Courtesy of Dhafer Al-Shehri.
Tropilocal by Emirati photographer Fatema Abed. Image: Courtesy of Fatema Abed.

The current show, as its name suggests, centers on presenting elements of the culture of the Gulf region, such as Gulf traditions, dances, clothes and values. For example, Saudi photographer Dhafer Al Shehri’s photograph captures and celebrates the Al Khubaiti dance, a folk dance that is especially prevalent in Jeddah. Emirati photographer and architect Fatema Abed’s Tropilocal (the title is a play on the words “tropical” and “local”) depicts Emirati women’s traditional colorful clothes in an iconic setting. “I captured this photo in Liwa Oasis in an old fort. I wanted to show the local colorful summer vibes revealed in the dresses we traditionally wear, along with the palm tree leaves that represent summer, and [add] a tropical mood to the scene,” she explains.

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Khaleeji culture is not complicated; it is based on simplicity and Islamic customs, which I find beautiful.  Our rich, vibrant culture enhances our creativity,” says the 24-year-old when we ask her about what Khaleeji culture means to her as a photographer, and how her work, which frequently captures Emirati women’s colorful traditional clothes, speaks to it. “With my artwork and photography, I believe that I’m celebrating it in an amusing way, that I believe adds a positive impact in our culture.”

The Family by Saudi based Ukranian artist Zoya Al-Kaff, as showcased in the Khaleeji Culture art show at Dubai Festival City. Image: Courtesy of the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Similarly, 21-year-old rising Omani photographer and artist Abdulaziz Alhosni says that, “Khaleeji culture has always been something personal to me, not just because I am Khaleeji, but  because being Khaleeji makes me proud of my identity and I like the idea that we share almost everything, like we are siblings. Moreover, most of the world does not know much about Middle Eastern culture, and this is where my art comes in, to show the world, and help them understand, what being a Khaleeji is like.”

In the show, Abdulaziz participates with Colorful Masculinity, a photograph that features him in traditional Omani clothes, coupled with Yeezys. The photograph- like much of his photography work- represents an issue that is of significance to him. “In our Khaleeji culture, people have always defined masculinity as being strong, and that men do not show vulnerability,” he explains. “So, what I did was that I added a modern touch to my art by wearing  Yeezy shoes and by adding some colours, to make people understand that adding some colors to what they are wearing will not affect their masculinity.” 

Colorful Masculinity by Omani photographer and artist Abdulaziz Alhosni. Image: Courtesy of Abdulaziz Alhosni.

Khaleeji Culture also features the work of two current and previously Gulf based artists, Zoya Al-Kaff and Nasiha Manaeika, respectively. Zoya is a Ukranian artist who has been based in Medina in Saudi Arabia for the last two decades. The Kingdom was initially a “completely incomprehensible, unusual country” for the artist, who moved there after converting to Islam. “I observed a lot, studied the history, the  traditions of the people and then transferred my impressions onto canvases,” she recalls. “The most valuable and sacred [element] in the Khaleeji culture is the family.” Thus, she depicted it in the painting she showcases in the show, The Family.  

“The composition in the painting is executed in one line. The line rises from the bottom of the father’s figure (base), and ends with the shape of the baby’s eye. This movement suggests that a person’s worldview is formed from father to son. The mother’s hand protects from above, and the yellow background creates special warm lighting, the light that only exists in carefree childhood and the light with which we try to surround our children,” she adds.

Nasiha, a 24-year-old digital artist and American national of Pakistani origins, spent 23 years of her life in Dubai before recently moving to England. She enjoys depicting the fusion of cultures in her vibrant digital pieces, including Game Night, which she participates in the show with. “One main thing that I think everyone who’s ever lived in Dubai can agree on is that nights in Dubai, particularly during Ramadan, compare to no other. Suhoor nights, game nights and shisha nights are what I miss most, and through this certain artwork I was focused on [portraying] the game nights aspect of the culture: a Carrom board with UNO and a glass of sherbet!” she shares. “Gulf culture was and is a huge part of my childhood, so I hold it near and dear to my heart. I really do enjoy living in the UK as well, but the UAE will always be home. I have adopted a lot of the culture in my daily lifestyle, food and even dress. I will continue to make art that relates to that part of my life.”

The Khaleeji Culture show will be available for viewing until June 30th, between 19:45 to 21:45 every night in Dubai Festival City Mall.

To find out more about the Khaleeji Art Museum visit www.khaleejiartmuseum.com, or visit their page on Instagram.


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.