Rayan Imad Hakki Discusses Championing Regional Creatives In Dubai

Lindsay Judge   |   27-05-2024

Rayan Imad Hakki, Managing partner and Exhibition curator at Khawla Art Gallery on how the gallery shines light on regional talent.

Founded by Her Highness Sheikha Khawla Bint Ahmed Bin Khalifa Al Suwaidia poet, writer, calligrapher and art critic, Khawla Art, Gallery in Dubai’s Design District was imagined with the vision of showcasing the work of Arab artists, both upcoming and established. As well as holding regular exhibitions showcasing regional and international artist’s work, Khawla hosts art fairs, lectures, workshops, and events to help engage artists and collectors and showcase the creative talent in the region. Driven by the need to make the global art scene more accessible and inclusive, the gallery presents contemporary art from emerging and established Middle Eastern artists who draw inspiration from their culture and traditions. 

As well as the physical gallery, Her Highness founded Khawla Art & Culture as a platform to cultivate interest in the cultural heritage of the world, with an emphasis on calligraphy. The gallery was an extension of this as she realized the need for a platform that shines a light on regional art. Through Khawla Art & Culture and Khawla Art Gallery, she envisions a world where peoples of all nations can learn from one another and usher in an era of peace, prosperity and tolerance.

As the gallery prepares for its latest exhibition, we talk to Managing Partner Rayan Imad Hakki to find out more. 

Tell us about Khawla Art Gallery’s vision and direction today. 

The gallery’s vision has always been to support and promote art from the MENA region – in a very globalized world, we aim to turn eyes to our region, encourage visitors to appreciate our culture and ensure our voices are heard. Today, Khawla Art Gallery’s aim is to go international and bring local art to other parts of the world. We began with Beirut, Cairo, and Spain, and we are planning so much more.  

Who does the gallery aim to attract, and what do you aim to showcase to visitors?

As Khawla Art Gallery is part of Khawla Art and Culture, our main goal is to attract the young generation, especially young Arabs, and educate them in the fields of art and culture. Moreover, we aim to attract collectors, of both regional and international art to show them the new and upcoming artists of the region. 

We show our visitors a variety of artists from all around the region – both renowned and emerging. Each exhibition is a different journey – from its stories to its colours, textures, and eras of the vast culture of the Middle East. 

What are some of the upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

One of the projects I am personally excited about is part of our collaborative project with Museo Universidad de Navarra. It’s a project that combines art, music, and theatre. We will begin with the “Building Bridges” project that brings together the different yet very similar cultures of the Arab region and Spain by curating an art residency. We are thrilled to be promoting an Emirati artist in Spain and giving them a chance for a new experience, and of course, receiving a very talented Spanish artist who will surely create wonders in this residency. 

How are you sharing the work of the museum on an international scale?

To be internationally renowned, you should exhibit, give workshops, participate in art fairs, and more. This is exactly what we are doing by hosting our yearly Al Khatt Festival in Beirut, collaborative exhibitions in Cairo and Spain, and working on upcoming projects in Paris and Saudi Arabia. 

How do you showcase the rich history and culture of the UAE through the museum?

While developing our yearly schedule, we ensure that at least 50 per cent of our artists are Emirati, whether by giving them a chance to exhibit, host workshops, lectures, or participate in any activity. Moreover, as our Gallery is not only a commercial gallery, but rather an art community, we host events such as tours of the UAE’s landmarks: we have already planned visits to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Abrahamic Family House, a dinner at the Sammaliyyah Island, and more. 

In Khawla Art and Culture, we showcase even more by having the yearly celebration of the UAE during the month of December, which coincides with the UAE National Day; the ongoing research on the Emirati Heritage, providing schools and universities with workshops and lectures from Emirati artists and artists from around the world, participating in the UAE’s traditional yearly festivals, and many more projects and activities. 

How does the vision of the gallery’s founder Her Highness Sheikha Khawla Bint Ahmed Bin Khalifa Al Suwaidi shine through in the projects and exhibitions?

Her Highness Sheikha Khawla Bint Ahmed Bin Khalifa Al Suwaidi founded Khawla Art and Culture with an initial aim to give back to our artistic community that has been left out in some sort, and a way to give back to the artists that were not given a chance to stand out. 

As an Art enthusiast and as an Art collector, she hoped for the world to also start appreciating the young and emerging artists of the MENA region by keeping the rich culture and heritage of the MENA region.

By founding Khawla Art and Culture, she provided artists with a platform to have their voices heard and their works showcased, and students and art enthusiasts to learn art and its history. 

After some time, seeing the incredible responses from both artists and the community, she decided to open the Khawla Art Gallery. The gallery doesn’t only exhibit artworks but also hosts dinners, workshops and lectures that help us to create a community and educate the audience. 

The different projects that we do on a different level, are what got us to where Khawla Art and Culture is today. These projects are what will keep us moving forward and keep Her Highness’s vision alive and shining. 

What else is coming up this year?

This year we have many collaborations with other entities. As mentioned, we had our first collaboration with Museo Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona for a solo exhibition by Her Highness Sheikha Khawla Bint Ahmed Bin Khalifa Al Suwaidi, as well as another calligraphy exhibition by Everitte Barbee. Another collaboration with Azad Gallery for two exhibitions: a Solo by Ghaleb Hawila entitled “Mapping ego” and a collaborative exhibition between four incredible Arab Artists: Ismail Rifai, Shawki Youssef, Elias Ayoub and Nawar Shartouh, under the title of “Faces of Expression”. 

We are also working on two more collaborations this year, and we believe that these are crucial for our growth, and to make connections and friendships in the field from one country to another. 

Our yearly schedule of solo and collective shows is surely ongoing. We have Abdallah Akkar’s solo exhibition this month, a summer collective, and more. 

What is the biggest challenge you face within your role today?

Not being able to showcase all the artists we have. It takes a long time to choose who to exhibit as we really try to fit each artist we want to showcase. 

When we started, a challenge was to introduce and make these artists part of the art market and of the collector’s taste. But it has changed, and Arab art is being praised more and more, and the market is shifting slowly to focus on MENA art—this is one of the best achievements that both our gallery and all the other entities that promote Arab art should be proud of—a challenge that is becoming a strength bit by bit. 

What else would you like to achieve with the museum moving forward?

We hope to be part of the tastemakers who will make Arab art part of every collector’s house and museum and have Khawla Art Gallery be a reason for these artists’ inclusion. 

What is the dream exhibition you would like to have at the museum?

A dream exhibition would consist of two components. Firstly, it would be an exhibition of the artists who drew the path of Arab Art—renowned artists who are not present with us anymore and who made a change in the art field from all around the MENA region. By combining works from different institutions, collectors, and artists, we could celebrate them and their journey and show the artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts the broad treasure we have in our world. 

These renowned artists inspired today’s generation of artists, and therefore we would have a parallel exhibition to this, that collects today’s artists that will become tomorrow’s tastemakers. The exhibition of both would have over 100 works and will be a manifesto of the arts of the MENA Region.  

What is your professional motto? 

Without culture, there is no civilization. And without art, there is no culture. 

What message would you send to our readers to let them know why they should visit?

In our region, we have many artists whose work is worth investing in and collecting. We have seen the results in recent international auctions. I would tell A&E readers to be part of this with us, visit us and meet the different artists, learn their stories, and appreciate them. Together we can create a history, paving our way to unfinished stories about the arts and culture of the MENA region. If we put our hands together, we will reach to even bigger achievements together and be proud of where Arab art will reach.