50 To Follow

Here it is: the 2019 edition of magpie’s 50 To Follow.

Like most retrospective lists, it’s intended as a conversation piece. We fully expect you to disagree with our inclusions, and with the (admittedly pretty arbitrary) ranking that we’ve given them.

Be warned: this isn’t a list of the 50 coolest or richest or most influential or best-connected people in the UAE’s cultural world. Instead it’s a compilation of what we regard as 50 of the most interesting people active in that scene. These are some of the people who make the UAE such an exciting place to be right now. And any event, initiative or enterprise featuring one of these names is likely to be worth paying attention to.

How did we construct this list?

By keeping an eye on the UAE scene over the last couple of years, by visiting, talking, writing, asking questions, and by inviting suggestions. The result is enthusiastically subjective, of course, which is another way of saying it reflects magpie’s preferences, interests and values: feel free to argue with those via editor@magpie.ae.

Who’s missing?

It’s a busy world out there, and we found it difficult to limit ourselves to 50. But that restriction did hone our reflexes. A few of those on the list needed very little thought; most required a good deal of research and input from others, with the big red pen poised to strike down faltering candidates … some of whom were restored the following morning, with a consequent further round of soul-searching to reduce the total to 50.

There are some names that you might expect to see on the list, and it’s worth highlighting a couple of those. Sultan al Qassemi, commentator and conversation starter, is the obvious omission, but he’s stepped away from Barjeel and the limelight for a while. We wanted to include individuals who were both active and noticeable.

On that basis, Shumon Basar probably deserves to be included for his inspirational reinvention of Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum; but he works from London, and our list is limited to UAE-based names. [Update: Shumon tells us he splits his time between Dubai and Berlin, in fact, so he should probably have qualified.] Similarly, Antonia Carver is director of Art Jameel and so responsible for Jameel Art Centre, the best thing to happen in the UAE art world in 2018; but her remit is much broader and crosses the Saudi border.

We have included several stalwarts of the independent music scene, but many others just couldn’t be shoehorned in.

Much the same applies to the gallerists we left out. There have been good shows at Third Line, Carbon 12, Green Art Gallery, Leila Heller and Gallery Isabelle van der Eynde, for instance; but then we’ve come to expect that continuing high standard. There isn’t room for all of them in the 50 To Follow, but follow them anyway.

On with the list …

1Bill Bragin curator, adminstrator, placemaker
The Arts Center at NYUAD has only been going for just over four years, but it already feels like a fixture – an organic essential in the UAE cultural scene, and virtually a guarantee of quality in contemporary performance. In those four years there has hardly been a dud booking; and though he is building a team ethic, the Center’s director Bill Bragin has largely been responsible for identifying, scheduling, and trumpeting the stream of top-quality artists that have passed through the Arts Center. He now has two good theatres, one black box and one more conventional, which allows a whole range of shows to be programmed; he has built links throughout the UAE and beyond; and he’s created an arts centre that does exactly what an arts centre should do – pushing boundaries, engaging audiences, encouraging artists to spread the word by participating in workshops … If and when he goes, Bill Bragin will be sorely missed.
2Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal entrepreneur, placemaker The founder of Alserkal Avenue, Alserkal Programming and Alserkal Residency deserves his many plaudits. Alserkal Avenue may have started as an experiment in real estate management, but it has become one of the engines of Dubai’s creative economy with internationally-recognised galleries, art spaces like Concrete and Nadi Al Quoz, and an ecosystem of cafes and cool retailers. It will be interesting to see how it develops; is there any more space for expansion in the Alserkal Avenue complex? What’s the future for the remaining garages and workshops? Is there pent-up demand for more culture-style units, or is the future some kind of lifestyle-oriented mini-mall? Alserkal knows …
3Maya Allison curator, gallerist An institution like the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery has a special role: it’s obviously not commercial, and it’s never going to be a drop-in coffee-with-your-art place. It’s serious and thoughtful, artistically rigorous, almost academic in its concern to say something about the art it shows, and Maya Allison has produced some very strong museum-quality shows in the gallery’s almost five years’ existence. She has also become something of an expert on (and a champion for) the early days of the UAE’s contemporary art scene, once overlooked internationally but now starting to get some of the recognition it deserves: Maya Allison gets a lot of the credit for that.
4Padraig Downey theatre director Founder and director of Danú Dubai, one of the best of the clutch of Dubai theatre groups that consistently punch above their weight. Downey just seems to punch harder and faster, choosing interesting shows and pushing boundaries to make sure they deliver. His productions include some top Irish plays – The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh (2015), Conor McPherson’s The Weir (2015), O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman (2016), The New Electric Ballroom by Enda Walsh (2018, and a personal favourite). But Danú’s most successful play to date has probably been Amir Nizar Zuabi’s I Am Yusuf, the Arabised version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was pretty special, and The Al Hamlet Summit by Sulayman Al Bassam was a hit in 2017. Downey seems to understand how to bring the Western traditions of theatre into a local environment and for a local audience. Next show: Beckett’s Endgame, due sometime this year.
5Butheina Kazim film programmer Founder of Cinema Akil, for the past four years now the main flagbearer for independent and arthouse cinema in the Emirates. Pop-up programming was Cinema Akil’s normal mode of operation, but last year it finally got a permanent base – a small but fully equipped cinema in Alserkal Avenue that runs a seven-days-a-week 365-days-a-year schedule (ok, apart from some official holidays). The range of films on offer is spectacular, with up-to-the-minute Sundance favourites showing alongside the best of regional filmmaking, and you can’t escape the thought that it’s all down to the knowledge, contacts and energy of Butheina Kazim.
6Isabel Pintado designer The Spanish-born interior designer is the doyenne of design in the region, where she has more than a decade of success on the drawing board and then in management. She helped set up GAJ’s interior design department, moved to LW Design in 2012, and four years later was headhunted by Wilson Associates to be senior VP of the firm’s Middle East and Africa regional office and head of its Dubai studio. She’s also Director of Operations —Global, a role in which she is streamlining operations for the seven Wilson offices around the world. Locally, Pintado’s leadership has produced many awards and even more satisfied clients: she has an enviable track record in luxury hospitality design, but is also very active in Wilson’s ongoing partnership with Surge for Water, a global non-profit working to give access to clean water across three continents – the Run and Sweat for Surge campaign at the 2018 Dubai Marathon raised enough cash to provide safe drinking water for 1,128 people in a Ugandan village; and under her direction, Wilson Associates was among the 11 UAE design houses involved in Surge’s undersung Reimagine Lighting campaign to promote sustainable design. Wilson Associates was named Interior Design Firm of the Year at the 2018 CID Awards.
7Joanna Marsh composer The UAE doesn’t have too many internationally recognised composers, not least because the paucity of professional orchestras and musical institutions here means the composer’s natural ecosystem just doesn’t exist. As a result Joanna Marsh probably isn’t as well known here as she should be. She does keep up an exhausting pace, though, and her local commissions include Kahayala, a symphonic piece celebrating the building of the Burj Khalifa, its score handwritten to form a giant drawing of the Burj: a number of works for brass ensemble and for harp duo, commissioned by the Emirates International Festival of Literature: and a short orchestral work for the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the first BBC Proms in Dubai in March 2017, a piece called Flare based on a short story by Saudi writer Mohammed Hasan Alwan. If that wasn’t enough, Jo Marsh is also Co-Founder and Artistic Director of ChoirFest Middle East, the celebration of the region’s choral music scene annually in March, for which she has written and arranged many pieces.
8Munira Al Sayegh curator One of a rising group of young Emiratis who know what curating and researching are all about. After graduating, she interned with the Guggenheim in New York and then worked with NYUAD on the influential FIND research programme (artistic and scholarly projects about the landscape of the UAE). She moved to become assistant curator for Emirati Expressions 2015, and then curator of Bayn: the in-between, the good Warehouse421 show that highlighted the emerging UAE artistic community. She is one of the three curators of Art Dubai’s new Bawwaba section for 2019; Al Sayegh is also working on the nascent Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project, appears regularly on panels, and writes and comments widely on the regional contemporary art scene. She’s going to be a significant presence in that world …
9Kamal Musallam musician Arabic Fusion guitarist and oud player (he also has a hybrid guitar/oud called the Glissentar) – a genuine superstar with at least seven albums to date plus several sideman credits, multiple tours across Asia and Europe, big-name collaborations throughout his CV … He can play many styles, but when he’s playing live you really need to hear him loud and fast: Rob Garratt has described it rather well as “wiggly, fret-crunching jazz-rock fusion, translating Arabic scales onto blistering, distorted electric guitar”. This is genre-crossing boundary-testing at its best.
10Vikram Divecha artist Mumbai-bred artist whose work always has a strong socioeconomic timbre, especially addressing place and identity or work and value. His practice has developed around interventions and reworkings of what the ‘found processes’ that one way or another affect how we all live. Often Divecha’s revisions will happen slowly and will linger well beyond the notional exhibition – “re-contextualising the ebb and flow of goods through a warehouse, re-framing agency among municipal gardeners who create lasting public works, injecting non-artists into an artistic space, and superintending the regeneration of context as uprooted bricks from a bus stop are relaid elsewhere – such are the situations created across a practice invested far more in the social dynamics of an actual urban space, than in the hermetic world of the white cube” as his gallery, Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, put it. GIVDE has put on several of his shows, and he’s also exhibited at or been commissioned by Tashkeel, Alserkal, Sharjah Biennial 13, and a temporary Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibit in 2017.
11Karim Sultan curator Director of and principal curator for the Barjeel Art Foundation; like Barjeel in general, he’s an advocate for Arab modernism that has seen him curate such important and wide-ranging shows as The Sea Suspended for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (the first Arab modern art exhibition in Iran) and the excellent The Short Century at the Sharjah Art Museum (co-curated with Suheyla Takesh). Not enough for you? Karim Sultan is also a practising artist who works with photography, installation, and sound and music – he has a rather good live set, and this is some recent work.
12Manal Ataya administrator, placemaker A pioneer in museology in the UAE, Manal Ataya has an MA in Museum Studies from Harvard University and has been at the Sharjah Museums Authority since 2006. Appointed director-general two years later, she now looks after 16 museums and heritage institutions including Sharjah Art Museum and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization; she has been responsible for increasing the range, number and importance of their exhibitions – the Lasting Impressions series celebrating major Middle Eastern artists has been particularly successful, and this year’s Islamic Arts Festival (on till 19 January) is the best yet. Equally important perhaps, she has championed the introduction of women into key management roles.
13Abbo Abbondandolo musician Almost single-handedly, Abbo’s GoPlayTheWorld events –notably at Tr¡beca and now at PizzaExpress Live too – have created the kind of open-mic climate that individual performers need to test their talent. He’s not at all bad himself, with his gravelly vocals gracing acoustic sets and occasionally fronting DaVinci Park too.
14Deborah Najar art space founder Jean-Paul Najar was an imaginative and inspirational collector, building relationships with many of the more important contemporary artists of Europe and the States especially from the 1970s on. His daughter Deborah established the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation in 2016, the only private not-for-profit art space in Dubai; her goal is to offer outstanding exhibitions (themed or individual retrospectives, three or four a year) that showcase some of the impressive collection assembled by Jean-Paul Najar and to run associated educational programmes – typically hands-on workshops. She’s still very hands-on herself at JPNF. Dubai is lucky to have her.
15Rony Afif  musician Dubai jazz royalty, along with brother Elie (and the likes of Kamal Musallam and Samvel Gasparyan, both included in 50 To Follow). Rony plays drums and composes; his current projects include the Rony Afif Quartet and the Afif Brothers, rock/funk/soul with Abri & Funk Radius, and the A.R.S. Trio (cool soulful jazz with Artur Grigoryan and Samvel Gasparyan – highly recommended). Check out A.R.S. Trio’s album Time or Rony’s own album Zourouf, but there’s no substitute for seeing him live …
16Elie Afif musician Originally from Lebanon, like his brother Rony. Elie is a sought-after bass player (upright and bass guitar) with a wide range – cool jazz to thumping rock. He often plays in groups with brother Rony and has recorded with his own quartet. He too is often to be found with the likes of Tarek Yamani, Kamal Musallam and Hamdan Al Abri, which isn’t bad company to be keeping …
17Alex Broun theatre director, impresario A fixture on the UAE theatre scene for some time, directing or producing dozens of high-quality productions (a personal favourite was an immersive Romeo and Juliet at the much lamented DUCTAC). He’s also a prolific writer, including a co-writing credit a couple of years ago on the very successful Howzat, the first play set in a recognisably contemporary Dubai. He has dozens of short plays in his portfolio too (over 100 of his ten-minute scripts have been produced in more than 1,500 productions worldwide) and he also launched Short+Sweet Theatre in Dubai (next edition starts 24 Jan) and Abu Dhabi (25-26 Jan). On top of that he’s a fine teacher, regularly running writing and acting workshops. You want energy, enthusiasm, talent and sheer love for his craft? You’ve got it.
18Melissa Gronlund journalist, writer Arts writing in the UAE is generally on the pallid side, often done by journalists with a generalist background or enthusiasts who speak to the converted and are reluctant to risk controversy. The National has managed to find some exceptions – alumni include Nick Leech, Anna Seaman, Rob Garratt – and its current arts writer Melissa Gronlund fits well. She consistently delivers smart, thoughtful, wideranging coverage that happens to be well-written as well; that’s exactly what an arts writer for a popular news source should do.
19Dina Saadi artist, designer Artist and muralist with a highly recognisable style characterised by bold patterns and bright colours. Her training as a graphic designer (and a day job as Art Director for a creative agency in Dubai) informs her work, with clean lines and good use of space to provide visual contrast. This is post-pop, post-street art work of a very high order.
20Maitha Abdalla artist One of the five co-founders of Bait 15, the artist-run space in a residential area of Abu Dhabi – a much-needed counterpoint to the commercial or institutional studio/exhibition options available to the UAE’s artists. An alumnus of the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF) programme, Maitha Abdalla has a very characteristic style – folkloric beasts, sometimes merging into (or out of) human figures, the echo of stories told to keep children safe in a potentially harsh environment.
21Mina Liccione comedian, actor Co-founder of Dubomedy Arts (short courses on comedy plus occasional free improv sessions) and the pop-up Clowns Who Care project (entertainment for refugee camps in Jordan and labour camps in Dubai), both with her husband Ali Al Sayed; sometime adjunct professor of Theater and Dance at AUS; stand-up comedienne, tap dancer, occasional choreographer. Her own website calls her “Dubai’s First Lady of comedy”, and the hyperbole seems justified …
22Khalid Shafar designer Designer and design role model for the region. His pieces are characterised by movement, a degree of emotion, and especially a back story; his collaborations and commissions have been particularly successful – reworking classic cabinets with Moissonnier, a clever paper-plus-place setting project with COS, the furniture and object designs under his own brand. He’s young, articulate, successful, and really rather good at design: just what Dubai needs to help establish its nascent design industry.
23Gautam Goenka theatre director One of Dubai’s top theatre enthusiasts and co-founder of The Junction (with Arjun Burman and Rashmi Kotriwala). Goenka has been involved in the community theatre scene here for 18 years. His acting and directing credits include over 40 shows, among them critical and popular successes like Sherlock Holmes, The Real Inspector Hound, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Art and Almost Maine.
24Afra Al Dhaheri artist One of the new generation of young Emirati artists – eager to try various mediums including drawing, painting, installation, photography, and printmaking, an intern both at the Guggenheim in New York and the UAE Venice Biennale Pavilion, showing in Emirati Expressions 2011 and 2015, one of the Sheikha Salama Emerging Artists Fellowship alumni, and a co-founder of the Bait 15 artist-run exhibition/studio space in Abu Dhabi … The art is good, and so is the level of her activity and engagement.
25Yasser Elsheshtawy academic, writer, curator Independent writer, researcher and commentator on the urban environment, especially in the UAE – he was an Associate Professor of Architecture at UAE University in Al Ain, where he also ran the Urban Research Lab. He curated the UAE Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016 with an exhibition on the Emirati National House (sha’abi) that focussed on how a standard housing model was personalised by residents. He also runs a blog on Dubaization and another on modernism in the urban and architectural landscape of the UAE. If you want considered comment on how the city has developed here, look no further.
26Maisoon Al Saleh artist Graduated from Zayed University in 2010 with a degree in Interior Design, but almost immediately had a solo show at the Maraya Art Centre and since then has been building a solid local and international reputation including stints at Art Dubai and the influential Emirati Expressions show. Although she has a surrealist bent, she likes to tell stories; for instance, her exhaustive Dara Chronicles comprised mixed media images and accounts of the MV Dara, a passenger liner that exploded and sank in the Gulf in 1961. The result challenges how we view factual history, personal memories, and the role of the mainstream media, all issues that have recurred in her work since. Maisoon Al Saleh was one of those selected by Etihad Modern Art Gallery for its New Identity exhibition a year ago, showcasing emerging women artists in the Gulf.
27Mohammad Khawaja film programmer Independent cinema has two real champions in the UAE, and both make it into the 50 To Watch; Dubai has Cinema Akil (which also does pop-ups at Warehouse421), Abu Dhabi has Cinema Space. It runs regularly in Manarat Al Saadiyat and always shows its films at no charge. They’re mostly classic and generally newly restored, sometimes current indie movies, occasionally national screenings supported by the relevant embassy (some good Korean titles have been shown). Mohammad Khawaja, film buff and one of the first graduates of the New York Film Academy Abu Dhabi, runs Cinema Space; he has described the project as “a community venture at its heart … it’s about encouraging people to give a chance to films they might not be familiar with but are truly worth discovering”. (Why Cinema Space? Because he originally started showing in 2014 at a now-defunct twofour54 space called The Space.)
28Hashel Al Lamki artist One of the young artists who set up Abu Dhabi’s artist-run Bait 15 exhibition/studio space – three of the founders, including Al Lamki, are alumni of the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (SEAF) programme; Lamki had previously studied and worked in the States. His most recent show, at NYUAD Arts Center’s Project Space, was an artistic correspondence with Mohammed Al Mazrouei in Cairo under the name Alibadah – “an extension of their ongoing dialogue on the existence and evolution of humans as a species; the works are an attempt to engage viewers by pushing boundaries of definitions”. The result was a fascinating collection of materials, media and ideas that did indeed stretch the concept of interactive communication.
29Faisal Al Hassan administrator Manager of Abu Dhabi’s Warehouse421 arts space since it opened in November 2015. Since then Warehouse421 has hosted 18 individual exhibitions, shown the work of more than 400 artists and designers (most of them local, all of them regional), and run a range of cultural programmes including performances, talks, outdoor film screenings with Cinema Akil, and more than 60 hands-on workshops. “We pride ourselves on offering an inclusive and welcoming community space” he told us a few weeks ago. “We envision Warehouse421 as a destination for creatives to be inspired, for networks to be built, and for conversations to be had.” This kind of vision and delivery is just what Abu Dhabi needs.
30UBIK artist One of a community of Dubai artists (though he was born in India) who draw inspiration from street art and pop culture. UBIK would probably not claim to work in a specific genre, but his more recent work does major on text-based art that appropriates existing text pieces from pop culture. But his contribution to Xantian Lie’s 1497 show at Green Art Gallery a couple of years ago was Support System, three hooks hanging on a thread between two points of the gallery: UBIK isn’t afraid of the conceptual. (UBIK, incidentally, is the deterioration-reversing spray at the centre of the eponymous SF novel by Philip K Dick, which might indicate how UBIK sees himself).
31Elie Choucair designer Something of a designer’s interior designer: a Canadian national who was born in Lebanon and has around 15 years’ experience, latterly as Associate at Godwin Austen Johnson, Elie Choucair has an impressively diverse portfolio that demonstrates a variety of design languages. Check out the detailing in his projects, which include the Fairmont Ajman, several Hiltons including the Hilton Garden Inn at Mall of the Emirates, and – a personal favourite – the boutiquish Mysk Al Mouj in Muscat.
32Zakaia Cvitanovich theatre director Founder and director of Beyond the Veil, one of the two theatre companies in Abu Dhabi – though they do have a lot of crossover in membership and have recently staged a joint production: Abu Dhabi theatre is a small world. Zakaia is big in Abu Dhabi theatre, though, a passionate advocate for the value of drama and especially keen to introduce a Western audience to Emirati playwrights and actors; Beyond the Veil specialises in modern Arabic plays delivered in English or bilingually. She is also director of Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi, the local festival of 10-minute plays (several of which will feature Zakaia Cvitanovich in one role or another) that this year is held on 25-26 January. “My personal belief is that collaboration is the heart and soul of theatre,” she told us. “It’s the way I direct and how I see Beyond the Veil.”
33Regina Santos designer Specialist Lighting Designer at Godwin Austen Johnson. Lighting design is a narrow, specialised world, but Regina Santos is recognised as one of the top practitioners locally and internationally. Her style isn’t particularly showy – her projects include NYUAD, the DEWA Solar Innovation Centre, the Hilton Garden Inn Mall of the Emirates and the Sheraton Grand in Dubai, the Federal National Assembly Hall in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah Art Foundation’s galleries, and the West Beach Club Dubai – but she’s a real thinker about her craft: “Lighting transforms spaces, it changes the mood and ambience of a room, it creates attention-grabbing facades and it defines the emotions of brands. It is something that is probably not as well understood as it could be and it requires an expertise that is unique”. And “there is no substitute for a good lighting designer. They add a dimension to architectural projects”. Indeed.
34Farah al Qasimi artist Farah Al Qasimi studied photography and music at Yale and now moves between the US and Abu Dhabi, making richly textured and highly saturated images that focus on locating the fantastic in the everyday and exploring power in contemporary society – especially the way that consumer culture seduces women. In the last few years she has shown at The Third Line, Barjeel Art Foundation, Maraya Art Centre, the 2015 Emirati Expressions exhibition at Manarat al Saadiyat, and the rather good Ishara: Signs, Symbols, and Shared Languages show at Concrete in 2018.
35David Collinder musician The drummer and main man in Uptown, the jazz/soul/Latin collective that for some time has been the house band at Jazz@PizzaExpress in Abu Dhabi. This is now the sole regular live music gig in Abu Dhabi; Dave gets extra points for organising the only open mic music night in town.
36Farah Chamma poet Dubai-born Palestinian spoken word poet who can perform in six different languages, one of the best exponents of the craft working in Dubai right now – able to range from the rather lovely ‘Like a Poet Would Do’ to more strident calls for action. She’s a good teacher too, leading hands-on sessions for Jamil Adas’s Dubai Poetics; and she performs with the improvisational band Parea. Bright and inspirational.
37Afra Atiq poet Born to an Emirati father and a Japanese-American mother, the spoken-word poet has broken out of the open mic scene to work on collaborative projects through ADMAF and NYUAD. Her poetry is strong and vibrant, and she’s also an advocate both for new Emirati voices and for a central role of the arts in education.
38Omar Abdelghafour interior designer Founder of Light Space Design, a relatively low-key interior design studio established by Omar Abdelghafour in 2004 to work at “the intersection of architecture, art and industrial design”. The office specialises in powerful, elegant, apparently minimal solutions, contextually rich and with the kind of attention to detail that marks out a potent designer; that’s all typified by the studio’s Leila Heller Gallery in Alserkal Avenue, the UAE’s largest commercial art gallery. That won a CID Award in 2018 for its use of lighting; Light Space Design also took a second prize at the 2018 event, Interior Design of the Year: Office for the Jetsmarter office in Dubai.
39Jonathan Ashmore architect Architects in the UAE often get a bad press internationally – maybe because of the demands of their clients, maybe because it’s easier to go for bland internationalism. Jonathan Ashmore, founder and director of Anarchitect, seems able to pick the right clients and make the most of the environment: his projects are regularly featured in the professional press and win awards locally and internationally, the practice specialises in bespoke work rather than the corporate playbook, and there’s an impressive regard for craftsmanship and aesthetics that delivers beautifully balanced designs both for buildings and interiors. Check out the ‘tropical modernism’ of the boutique hotel that’s being built in Sri Lanka with vernacular construction methods, or the cleverly understated redesign of the Manarat Al Saadiyat’s central atrium and its shop.
40Nishi Singh dancer, choreographer, teacher Nishi Singh is a classical Indian dancer who has become something of a legend in Kathak dance both here and in India; she has performed all over the world, is widely respected as a teacher (including inspirational work with special needs students), and was honoured at the Fifty Indian Icon Awards in India 2016.
41Alia Zaal Lootah curator A Senior Curatorial Assistant at Louvre Abu Dhabi, Alia Lootah is also an interesting (and successful) working artist. She makes the 50 To Follow though for two recent curatorial projects – Co-Lab: Contemporary Art and Savoir Faire at the Louvre, which paired four UAE artists with four noted French manufacturers: and co-curating (with Maya Allison) of Artists and the Cultural Foundation: The Early Years. This clever and carefully assembled survey of some the UAE’s key artists made for a landmark show (it’s still on – you have until 8 June to check it out).
42Dana Dajani writer, actor, poet Has built a reputation both for her stage work and her short films since arriving in Dubai in 2011. Latterly she’s added event MC and corporate presentation work to her portfolio; but we like her occasional work with the music-plus-spoken-word collaboration Floetics. She has also performed and recorded electronica-plus-poetry with cellist/producer Aaron Kim under the name Type Two Error.
43Joaquin Sosa musician Cuban sax and clarinet player with a lovely tone and fast fingers; he’s not bad on keyboards and flugelhorn, either. Frequently plays with the Afif brothers, occasionally with Funk Radius, sometimes at classical and world music gigs if there’s a Cuban vibe … Catch him if you can.
44Bersun Erturk designer Award-winning Turkish designer who has been in Dubai since 2006. He is now Design Director (and Partner, with his father) in the Elite ‘n’ Elite group, which has something of a reputation for stylish and often witty design across several fields – interiors, furniture design, product and packaging, exhibition stands and event designs.
45Sarah Alahbabi artist Another of the impressive stream of graduates from the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship, and a co-founder of the Bait 15 artist-run exhibition/studio space in Abu Dhabi. She usually works with photography, and social commentary is her metier – typically using satire to confront cultural and gender stereotypes in and about the UAE.
46Hind Shoufani filmmaker, poet, writer More important, perhaps, she’s an activist – her work is emotional, frank and often confrontational, good about the personal but at the same time concerned about feminism (especially in the Arab world) and Palestine (both of her parents are activists too: her well-received documentary film Trip Along Exodus (2014) is a cleverly constructed personal and political memoir that traces the last 70 years of Palestinian politics as seen through of the life of her father Dr Elias Shoufani, noted academic and commentator). Hind Shoufani is also the founder of Poeticians, an organisation that hosts (very) occasional salons for multilingual poets.
47Tiffany Schultz theatre impresario, placemaker Photographer turned theatre owner – with her husband she opened the Courtyard Playhouse a few years ago. The first theatre space in Al Quoz, it’s grown into a real community centred on a recently refurbished and well-equipped performance area, with regular improv evenings (often three a week – all free, but donations welcome) and a performing arts school that majors on improv-based short courses for adults and kids. This is the home of improv in Dubai, and that’s mostly down to Tiffany …
48Zeina Hashem Beck poet “The closest thing the UAE has to a poet laureate”, said the Arabian Business citation for its ‘100 Smartest People In The UAE’ in 2017. Beck’s work ranges across the personal and the political, from Arab culture to exile, language and identity to women’s rights. Her work – in Arabic, English and French – is regularly featured in literary magazines worldwide; and her second collection Louder than Hearts (Bauhan, 2017) is particularly good – check out ‘You Fixed It’. A few years ago she started Punch, an open-mic session in Dubai for aspiring poets.
49Samvel Gasparyan musician Keyboard player and composer, originally from Yerevan but based now in Dubai where he mixes easily in the tight but vibrant jazz world – both as a sideman and a leader (magpie is especially a fan of the A.R.S Trio he formed with Artur Grigoryan and Rony Afif from their first-name initials). He’s a multiple award winner, works with GEMS Education for private teaching and band programmes , and currently has a couple of projects on the go – the Samvel Gasparyan quartet; and the excellent Creative Culture funk-fusion band.
50Hananah Zaheer writer, placemaker An American writer/editor/corporate trainer, currently working on short stories and a novel, and one Big Idea: a community of prose enthusiasts called the Dubai Literary Salon. Originally started as a group meeting for participants to read their work, the Salon seems to be growing into something pretty special in terms of providing support and critical feedback for writers working on projects; there’s a monthly event which features readings by local and international authors, too. “In a city like Dubai, to be an organically growing space is pretty special in my eyes” says Hananah.

The following 50

It was tough limiting the list to just 50 names to follow. In no particular order of presumed merit, these only just failed to make the cut …

  • 1 Alexandra Macgilp curator
  • 2 Aljoud Lootah designer
  • 3 Amin Alsaden architect, curator
  • 4 Amira Rahim artist
  • 5 Ammar Al Attar photographer
  • 6 Antonia Carver arts administrator
  • 7 Artie Poghosyan musician
  • 8 Ayesha Hadhir Mubarak Hadhir Al Mheiri artist
  • 9 Bahareh Amidi poet
  • 10 Cristiana de Marchi curator
  • 11 Cristiana de Marchi curator, artist
  • 12 Dareen Charafeddineplacemaker
  • 13 Darshana Thakkar placemaker
  • 14 Dina Sami artist
  • 15 Dorian “Paul D” Rogers entrepreneur
  • 16 Dyala Nusseibeh arts administrator
  • 17 Farah Nasrawi artist
  • 18 Hala Salhi curator
  • 19 Hanan Sayed Worrell administrator, cultural advisor
  • 20 Hind Eissa Abduljalil Mohamed Al Fahim artist
  • 21 Homa Vafai entrepreneur, potter
  • 22 Hoor Al Qasimi arts administrator, advocate
  • 23 Iman Ben Chaibah publisher
  • 24 Isabelle van den Eynde gallerist
  • 25 Izzy Abidi adminstrator, entrepreneur
  • 26 Jonathan Siklos theatre director
  • 27 Jonny Farrow artist
  • 28 Jordan Rashkov musician
  • 29 Kevin McLachlan designer
  • 30 Khulood al Atiya curator
  • 31 Kristel Bechara artist
  • 32 Layla Kaylif filmmaker
  • 33 Maitha Demithan artist
  • 34 Maryam Al Mheiri arts administrator
  • 35 Noor Al Suwaidi artist, curator
  • 36 Noura Boush poet
  • 37 Noush Anand artist, musician
  • 38 Ovidio De Ferrari musician, educator
  • 39 Rachael Calladine musician
  • 40 Rachel Hamilton author
  • 41 Salem Al-Qassimi commentator
  • 42 Soren Hansen musician
  • 43 Stephane Brismontier theatre director
  • 44 Sultan al Qassemi curator, collector
  • 45 Sunny Rahbar gallerist
  • 46 Tamer Nahas event organiser
  • 47 Tarek Abou el Fatou curator
  • 48 Tarek Yamanimusician
  • 49 Vilma Jurkute administrator
  • 50 Wafa AlQasaimi artist

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