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"We are the only photo gallery in the Middle East". Close up.

Publié le par Kyradubai

"We are the only photo gallery in the Middle East". Close up.

You will find her every day in her gallery, Empty Quarters, a second skin, or about in Gate Village which she has contributed to the buzz. Photography is not only her passion but Safa Al Hamed has a broader ambition: transmit her taste and knowledge of art to the young Arabs in the region. INTERVIEW.

How did you come up with the idea of Empty Quarters, a gallery dedicated to photography only ?

Princess Reem Al Faysal has a message to deliver. She gave me the inspiration and the love for photography. We are the only photography gallery in the U.A.E but also in the Middle East. Empty Quarters officially opened in March 2009 but Princess Reem and I had this plan for two years already. Princess Reem is the founder of the idea. We were the first to build a photo gallery in this market. There were none. If we had not started, nobody would have.

What would you say about the art market here ?

In Dubai the art industry is progressing very fast. In Europe it’s already at the pinacle but here it is developing. All the artists are coming in Dubai because they actually see the potential to create and develop.

What reactions did you get when you opened the gallery ?

A lot of people loved the place although they had some doubts about our focusing on photography because its a niche market . « Why only photography ? Is there any collector here for this market ? » would they ask. « You pay a very high rent… Put paintings, sculptures at least... » These were the reactions from local and non local visitors and artists. This location is the best (Empty Quarters is located in Gate village, in front of the French restaurant La Petite Maison) and artists came to us to expose but we had to tell them « no, we are doing photo only… »

As a matter of fact you are opening a traditional gallery ?

The Cube Art Gallery, will also be a unique project. We are three founders : Princess Reem Al Faysal, Lulu Al Hamood, who is also an artist, and myself. Together we have a spiritual message. We plan to launch Cube Art in March. We will try to make it one week before Art Dubai if the logistics around it allows us to.

What is the moto behind your exhibitions ?

We have a different style. In every exhibition, there is a story behind. We send a lot of messages. Every artist has his own message. It is like a museum at the same time.

You told me you believed in educating people here about art ?

Yes. Our goal is to educate people, show them how art is value. We do not only sell. If I may, I will make a comparison with food : some people will eat at La Petite Maison, others will go for Kentucky. Princess Reem was telling me that as a photographer she wants to educate Arab people on what is photography. It is a new market.

Do you get any sponsorship or hep from the government ?

We didn't had sponsoring but we are planning to involve this strategy this year to be more active. We are doing this for the next generation. After 50 years from now, we will be known as giving the best quality of photography, printing, story wise. I can see a light coming.

How is it to be a woman here in Dubai ?

Sheikh Mohammed always inspired women. He is helping them to start and want the women to be educated and strong. He is very supportive . Even our parents are helping us, letting us chose for oneselves.

How did your father react when you said you would start this gallery ?

My father laughed and made fun of me in the beginning. « If you want to have fun, go ahead, » he said. Everybody has a role in this life. We have a message to give. There are people to educate. There are three categories of people : the givers, the give and takers and the takers. I chose the first. Sorry to speak like that but we are not animals who eat and reproduce. We are more. Everybody wants to be happy and some people are happy when they give. We cannot be satisfied only by taking. Actually we people here are givers. That’s why the city was built like that. Here we think about others, we keep them in mind when we create. There are a lot of givers here. If you give, you will succeed. This is life : give, give, give and dont think about the return.

What do you like about photograpy ?

I like the story, the message, the spiritual part of it and the memories. It goes fast as well. It grasps things. A museum without photo, is not a museum. Pictures talk about the past. They are documentary. I like history. We have a very high printing quality. Our pictures will last hundreds of years. It is important for people to know that they will remain. Otherwise, they dont mean anything. We will open a printing studio in Al Quoz maybe inMarch as well.

What differences can you see since you opened five years ago ?

Between 2007 and 2013 I already witnessed a big difference on the art market in Dubai. In 2007, we were alone in Gate Village ! We had no idea that Gate Village would turn like that and become a quarter for galleries.

Is it more accepted among local families to chose art as a professionnal career ?

For most artists it used to be difficult. The older generation tells them « go find a life ! » It is more accepted to be an artist for the new generation with other job beside for living.

Are you the only one in the art business in the family ?

Yes. We are seven siblings. The other ones are lawyers, businessmen, in construction.

Name the photographers you like the most ?

Steve Mc Curry of course, but everybody likes him. Princess Reem’s work which is full of meaning and soul. Not only do I like the style but the meaning of it. It is black and white pictures. We discovered and exhibited Al-Moutasim Al Maskery, a photographer from Oman. He is still new but I can see his future. In five years from now, you will see. He is talented.

Do you have photographies at home ?

In my room I have a picture of Marti Becca and one of Gonoviva. And in our house, my father love portraits, actually. I realize that. He is collecting portraits of members of the family. You see, like me, he has the love for photography. I have to tell him that ! (she laughs). Twenty years ago, a famous english photographer took portraits of my parents and it is one of the best portrait of my father. He loves it.

Are you working on another project ?

We have a plan to open a School of photography. It will be a Center for Photography in DIFC, The gate village.

What dreams do you have for Dubai and the region ?

I am proud to be from Dubai. It is a progressing industry. In all fields. I can see it. The governement is trying its best to make the people happy an is working hard for that. The people here love their goverment and Sheikh Mohammed is like a father to us. You know, I have a picture of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed on my bedside table like members of my family. You won’t see this in any other country. We feel the love for him. He is a giver. He is very generous. Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid taught how to love their people. In life, one should remember : if you say things from your heart, it will reach the heart. If you say things from your lips, it will only reach the ears.

How is it to work as a woman ?

In the beginning, I did a lot of mistakes. I was not practical. I was emotional. I gained experience and I am still learning. Decisions were far from easy because there was nothing there. You needed to have a vision but there was nothing to hold to. We had to do a lot of marketing for oneselves.

You live by your traditions ?

Tradition is important. This is the way we live. Today I took my breakfast on the floor. It is important to keep your personality. And this is what people are looking for. If you go to Japan, or China, what you want to see is tradition otherwise we have the same Starbucks everywhere !

What is your dream city ?

Sheikh Mohammed makes our dreams real. He is going ahead of our dreams. What more than that do you want ?

Have you lived abroad ?

No. I have just stayed several months abroad but not lived elsewhere.

Your favorite places in Dubai ?

I like the sea view next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

What do you do to recharge yourself ?

I go home, in my room. I sit with myself and meditate. I am a very spiritual p

Empty Quarters currently shows the work of famous French photographer Marc Riboud

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interview with Sheikha Bodour, publisher and daughter of the Ruler of Sharjah

Publié le par Kyradubai

In the middle of the buzz of Sharjah’s 31st International Book Fair which opened its doors from the 7th to the 17th of November at the Emirate state’s Expo Center, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, tells how her passion for books began. With her sparkling eyes, enjoying a lugaimat and a cup of tea, the 35 year old beautiful entrepreneur, never gets tired of witnessing how the stories she publishes delight her young audience. Her publishing house, Kalimat, celebrates its fifth anniversary this year and the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) which she presides over has just become a member of the International Publishers Association (IPA). INTERVIEW.

How did you come up with the idea of promoting children books in the UAE?

It began seven years ago. My daughter was three years old at the time and I started to read her stories and bedtime stories. But she could feel I was lacking enthusiasm towards these books. And as I did not like them, she did not like them either. I started asking myself where are the Emirati books on our culture, our stories, our people, our traditions. And when I turned to people around me, asking other mothers how they felt about it, I realized everybody had the same feeling and the same frustration. So I started with several books to see how it would go from there. This is how it all started. This was in 2007. We started with five books at Kalimat and it was an immediate success! Everybody said we really spotted a market that was sleeping for a long time. We needed these stories to come out. And today we have 100 books and many Emirati writers and illustrators.

Do you only publish in Arabic?

Yes, since the beginning. We only publish in Arabic. Just a few books are translated but 90% of our books are local. The reason why we buy some of them is to interact with other publishers, develop our network that open doors for our local writers. For instance the Young Adult market was not very developed so we decided to buy and translate to encourage our writers and show them that there is a market for this kind of books. And now we do have writers for this Young Adults market in the UAE. This is a great achievement.

How do the children welcome the books? This is something you must experience through the eyes of your daughter?

I have three children now and they have been growing up with Kalimat and you can see a change in our culture of reading as well. Before you had to learn something from a story, it had to be educational and now it’s more about fun, about enjoying the story and having pleasure reading the story rather than learning something out of it. I think this emphasis makes children love books even if they don’t learn anything from them. It creates a bond with the book. This is the beginning of many new initiatives. New writers are coming up as well and great illustrators.

It gives them the love of reading?

We established the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAE BBY). I am the President of the UAE BBY here. It is an organization that brings together writers and people in general interested in children’s book. We have many workshops for librarians, illustrators and writers. We have ambassadors. Salha Ghabesh (see the photo story on Salha Ghabesh, and her last book "Dana’s journey") is one of the year’s UAE BBY’s ambassadors. They are our UAE treasures. They are writers and illustrators who we take abroad to international conferences and we involve them in the local communities as well to do readings and promote the culture of reading.

You must have witnessed a great change in terms of audience since the book fair started 31st years ago?

I have grown up with this book fair. I will turn 35 next month and I have come here since I was three years old. I have been coming to the book fair every year. I’ve never missed it since I have been three years old. It used to be in a tent. And look now, it is in a huge hall! It’s really grown and it’s become like a national treasure really. People think of Sharjah and the book fair. So it is really something we are proud of.

When you think about Sharjah when you were a little girl and the Emirate as it is today, what comes to your mind?

For me it’s still familiar. And this is very important. You know when you leave a country and you come back and do not recognize it? You don’t feel connected to the country. For me Sharjah is always very familiar to myself because a lot of things are very cultural. You see the buildings, the monuments, and the architecture. You feel that you are in the Middle East.

You have studied anthropology and archaeology in Cambridge and UCL haven’t you? What did you feel being so far from Sharjah and the UAE?

It was very difficult because I remember going to university and thinking what am I going to study. I did not want to study science. Then I thought I love people and to know about different cultures and I chose anthropology.

(She pauses to offer and taste a lugaimat, one of these typical local sweet dumplings dotted with sesame seeds, which goes so well with the slight bitterness of tea).

We have a book about lugaimat actually. We are having the launch of the book on the 13th of November. It’s called «When the Camels Craved Dumplings». The writer is Emirati and she will be doing an event where we will be serving lugaimat.

Going back to my arrival in Cambridge, it was a culture shock. I was eighteen and at the time it was not like that. We weren’t so cosmopolitan. We did not have lot of people coming here. I had to adapt to a new situation, new setting, a new country, and new people. But it was the best experience of my life. It shaped me as a person, defined who I was. It also gave me a perspective on who I was as an Emirati. You meet people from all over the world, from different cultures.

The books you publish focus on Emirati culture and identity?

Yes because if you think about it, our country is very young and we are very open to many nationalities and many other countries. Children who are growing up here are very influenced by other cultures which is great. It makes them very open minded and educated. But the local identity also needs to be strong. For a child to have self-esteem and a good sense of himself, it is important to know who he is and where he comes from. Through our stories we can make them proud of who they are and where they come from. They can travel everywhere around the world and meet people but they know who they are inside.

Do they react differently when they listen to a traditional local story?

Yes when you see yourself in a story you can associate with the character, the setting, the words, a lot of things. This is important.

Do you write yourself?

I do, a little, but I have not published anything because you are more critical of yourself and I am very critical of everything I write. But hopefully next year some of my work will be published.

Your father, His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah also writes?

Yes he is a poet, a historian and a play writer as well.

He read you stories as a child?

We grew up with books all around our house. He told us stories of his childhood all the time for years and years and we begged him to write them down because these stories would be lost otherwise. So we were the ones who pushed him to write them and now he’s written so many books. Every year now it’s a new book. These personal stories are very important as well. They shape us when growing up. He has a very different and interesting life.

Who are you favourite writers?

I love the Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.

For more info: Kalimat’s website



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A Girl's Dream Come True. Interview with Fatima Sharaf, head and founder of the Hello Kitty Spa

Publié le par Kyradubai

A Girl's Dream Come True. Interview with Fatima Sharaf, head and founder of the Hello Kitty Spa

Sitting in the lounge area of the Hello Kitty Beauty Spa, a false airs "boudoir" Marie-Antoinette style beauty salon, founder and MG Fatima Sharaf tells about this first and unique concept. She says how she came up with this original idea which never ceases to seduce little princesses and their mummies and talks about her family who created and developped the Sharaf Group, a reknown name in Dubai. INTERVIEW.

How did you come up with the idea of a Hello Kitty Spa, a girl’s dream?

I had this idea for a long time. I went to see my brother Yasser, head of Sharaf Retail, with the idea of a spa for kids and he said «yes it is a good idea» but that was it. A few months later, he came back to me and said «I took your idea and played with it. Now I want the same idea but with the Hello Kitty brand». He wanted to take Hello Kitty a bit further than retail. We merged the two ideas together and Hello Kitty Beauty Spa was born.

This is the first and unique in the world?

Yes and we got the licence from Sanio Japan to go global. If anybody in the world wants to open a Hello Kitty Beauty Spa, they have to come to us.

How is business going?

It is working phenomenal. I really did not think it would go like this. But at the same time if you look around the world, there is a big come back for Hello Kitty.

It activates this nostalgia feeling and it is trendy at the same time?

Exactly. It takes us back to our childhood, for us adults. And for the kids, nowadays they like it too.

It is Japanese kawaii?

Yes, exactly, cuteness.

What is your public?

Mainly children. Here we call them Princesses. We have young ones as young as one year old. We give them their first hair cut with a certificate with a lock of hair. We use pure products which are all safe. We have organic nailpolish. It is a safelty policy. We have Hello Kitty ones but also the regular OPI and Essie’s. The girls like it because they want to be treated like adults. They want to be like their mothers (ndlr: The Queens) so they sit in the same seats as their mothers. The princesses get to choose their scrub and sanitazing balls. We dont file their nails but we scrub and pamper.

I was told that you insisted on learning the business from bottom to end. You even trained hard with a French hairdresser, Sandrine Bertrand?

She gave a hell of a time! She made me shampoo, shampoo, and shampoo. I did it for a whole month almost everyday. Very long hours. You would be very surprised: I have some staff with 15 years of experience but shampoo is a very important thing. The position, the pressure, there should be a certain connection with your client even if its shampoo. People think its just a shampoo but its not. And I dont want my staff to do something that I don’t know about. If you’re mixing color, I have to know how you mix it. If you’re cutting hair, I have to see that you are doing it the right way. If you’re doing something with the curly iron, I have to see that you are doing it right. Especially when children are involved. And the most important thing here: I wanted all the staff to know how to treat a princess. I had a problem with my daughter growing up. There were salon either for the kiddie kiddie ones and they did not know about style or they were for adults and they did not know how to handle children.

So you have one daughter?

Yes, she is ten now.

She was also an inspiration for the Spa?

Yes, she was always giving me ideas. Every time she comes here she has remarks. «Mama customer was not very happy. You should go and tell her...» And she always wants to help here. And she comes up with ideas. Look our logo: as our tables and mirrors are oval, she said «why don’t we have that shape for the logo?» And I spoke about it to the graphic designer. The hair bowl used to be very small? «Mama girls like them big»...

So she is your marker researcher?

Kind of! She would help a lot. Her name is Rhoda meaning garden and heaven in arabic.

Can you tell me more about your family?

My grandparents both paternal and maternal were traders like all Dubai people. The Sharaf Group started with two brothers, almost 40 years ago. My father Sharafuddin Sharaf and my uncle Ibrahim. They started in shipping in the 70’s and real state and slowly retail and now we have 60 companies and more than 5000 employees around the world.

What were the values transmitted to you?

I learnt it from my dad: the customer’s always right. If customers aren’t happy, then there is no business. This is what I tell all my staff. I will make you happy. You will not leave until you are happy.

Your recieved a business oriented education?

Always thinking business. Whenever travelling or going anywhere, my dad was always talking about all sorts of businesses or looking for opportunities. There is never enough and always something new.

What is your curriculum?

I studied linguistics at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. When I came back I joined the Sharaf group and they were opening the first retail store ever in 1985. They were in the business for 30 years but never in retail. Their main business was shipping, real estate. I started with them from scratch in the marketing department like any other staff. I had no experience and my father wanted me to start from the bottom.

This is part of the family business philosophy?

Since we were kids, school holidays did not mean school holidays. We spent a month of work going to the office and learn things. Then only could we go on holiday. For a few years, I worked there until I got married and had my daughter. I stopped to be with her at home but, while there, I did some personal businesses. In between, I was also an English teacher at Sara School in Rashadie. I loved the teaching but after two years I wanted to spend more time and make my daughter ready for school. I did my own fashion design business and shop. Then I went back to Sharaf Group again when she started school.

What did you learn from studying abroad?

To study abroad -I did a BA in Saudi Arabia- taught me to be independent. I was 17 years old. It is a hard country to live in, very different from Dubai. At that time it was a men’s world. Nowadays it is different. Here you did not have to cover, it is all by choice. There you were forced. Now it is different than when I was there.

Why do you choose to cover?

I cover because it makes life easier. You dont have to think about what you are going to wear. And it is part of our identity, our religion. It keeps you modest as well. And on a men’s perspective, it is showing respect for your family. For me it is also a way of not caring about what people think of me. As a family we are quite conservative, traditional. At puberty, you wear your sheila and habaya and during parties we don’t sit together. This is how it is.

You have a beautiful original habaya?

Thank you. I design my own habayas. I see materials, I set it, develop it.

Did you have a «princess» dream?

I wanted to be a fashion designer which I was for a while. I wanted to study it but at that time in Dubai my teachers in school and my parents were not really fond of the idea. They said «have a good proper degree and do that on the side. If you have a talent you don’t really need to study it». And I really believe in that. With the distance I believe they were right.

Did you like Hello Kitty as a little girl?

There was a shop at Al Gurair Mall in Deira. It was one of the biggest mall at that time. Every Eid we received a little bit of money, and pfff, we would go to Hello Kitty. The shop was called My Melody. I loved their rubbers. They were scented and I got crazy for them and its funny because my daughter collects these rubbers. Everybody in Dubai loved Hello Kitty.

How was it back then?

We used to play a lot outdoors. It was very safe the doors were always open. We were always outside on the sand, on bycicles.

Did you live in the desert?

Dubai was a desert. We always lived in Jumeirah. You know everybody lived in Deira or Bur Dubai at the time and they thought it was so far. Its outisde in the sand. In JBR area there was no buildings only The Méridien. They used to say, you can’t go there its too far in the desert. But we lived in concrete with water electricity and all. Although we went to the desert a lot and we still do. When it rains, all the locals, they get in their cars and go to the desert. Because as we don’t see a lot of rain, we want to enjoy it. We go to the desert as often as we can. It is nostalgia again.

What do you think about Dubai today?

I am proud of what Dubai has become. It is a bit fast for me. We all look up to Sheikh Mohammed. We all learn from him. When he says «Nothing’s impossible», I believe that. I also like the old Dubai. I feel it went too fast. I like it but maybe it goes too fast. It is amazing but for us to grasp what happened... You cannot do a city like this in such a short period of time. Nobody does: it is amazing. Opportunity comes only once. This is a lesson right in front of us. Take it and then think!

How do you preserve your culture?

It is in our nature this closeness and knowing each other and the hospitality part and all that brings you together all the time and we are all one family, al the locals, and when expats are coming we treat them as we treat each other. Preserving this heritage or our culture. Everthing is going on smoothly. Despite all this modernisation, you can see us all connected and attached to our culture and our beliefs. And this is also a big part of our religion. Our religion teaches us to do this. We are good believers in our religion so that is also how we preserve our culture. We also teach this to our children. In return the children see how we react and how we live. It is a circle. They will be doing the same with their children.

As a business women, how do you find the time to transmit all that to your child? You teach her Arabic?

Oh yes she speaks arabic, English and French. I learnt it also at school. Languages should not be a barrier. As Dubai is an international city with all these cultures this is an opportunity to know about everybody else. everybody is here. In my daughter’s class, she has got different cultures and nationalities and she gets to learn about them. Recently, they have been celebrating Diwali from the Indian culture. So they know about it from each other in class. I believe you should know about religions and cultures from people around you. It is nice to have knowledge it won’t harm you. I like that. We can all live together and know about each other.

There is a feeling of hospitality here in the Spa?

We have like a sitting area. It is like a salon. I need people to come and sit and watch TV and hang out not have a service. It is very cosy, laid back like at home. After you had a service you can stay here as long as you want. We have karaoke. Kids come and sing. That hospitality is very important also. You need to be comfortable, happy, relax in a nice environment and safe. It is always about customer satisfaction.

What is your next project?

We are working on developping the franchise at the moment. It will be ready in the next few months. We are taking two new locations in Abu Dhabi. We were approached by House of Frazer in Abu Dhabi and by the Abu Dhabi Mall. We are also introducing a lot of new things like massages etc. I did a lot of research but we are learning in the process.

Is it going quickly?

Not as fast I want. I dont have patience. I am ambitious.

Do you work with your brother Yasser Sharaf (Managing Director of Sharaf Retail)?

Yes hands in hands. He asks me for advice and I do too. I am the eldest.

Any other projects?

Sanio was so happy with the Hello Kitty Spa that they have decided to open a cafe. We are working on it right now. I am just looking for the perfect location.

Which would be?

Ideally? In front of the fountains at Dubai Mall! I want more of a tourist location.

For more info:


To book:

Town Center, Dubai

+971 4 344 9598


Open every day from 10am to 9pm

The Sharaf Group

Sharaf Group is one of UAE's largest and most respected business conglomerates. It comprises of over 60 operating companies in more than 6 business sectors: Information Technology; Shipping; Retail; Real Estate; Financial Services; Consumer Products; Travel and Tourism; and Construction. The Group was founded by two enterprising brothers, Ibrahim Sharaf and Sharaffudin Sharaf, of U.A.E origin during the last quarter of the 20th century.

Sharaf Group companies together employ over 2,500 people. Among the group’s registered enterprises, names that standout are- Sharaf Shipping Agency, Sharaf Industries, Sharaf Travels, Sharaf Enterprises, Sharaf Group Retail Division, Sharaf Design and Information Dynamics — these have a wide presence in and around Gulf countries. The Group has experienced the sustained growth for years since its inception (1976) among other Arab business houses in the private sector. The Sharaf Group operates in more than 20 countries across the world.

Info from: http://www.sharafs.ae/

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