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United Arab Emirates












Continuing with my interviews of Emirati artists (see my previous interview here), I met the incredibly inspiring Ghaleya Al Mansoori a few weeks ago. A young Emirati artist who stands up for her ground. A hero whose strength come from women.

Sophie Arni: Thank you for meeting with me. I've had a look at the installation you showcased for the final project of your Visual Arts degree at Zayed University. I was moved. It definitely reminded me of Juan Munoz work I saw earlier this year at the Hangar Biccoca.

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: Thank you. Yes, I can see why you would see some resemblance.

S.A.: I see these thousands of figurines as a group of women marching together in the desert and being stopped by a steep slope. Could you talk a bit about it? How did you make it?

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: It is made of 2700 figurines made of polymer clay, nailed to plywood. It was originally intended that the figurines would be directly nailed to the floor but I had to follow the exhibition venue's code. I then added sand, UAE's natural landscape, to the installation.

S.A.: I enjoyed your description of the title. I quote:"Once someone told me that I can’t do things that men do because I’m so little. Yes I’m little but I can."

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: SHE/little/FIERCE is about giving women voices to move, to participate. The inspiration comes from my mother. She gave up on her dreams. She didn't pursue what she had the potential to do when she was young. So when she had my sisters and I, she always told us to follow our intuition first. So she lives her dreams through us, her daughters. Mothers put their seeds in daughters.

S.A.: It is like an army of women.

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: Yes. Us women have to be strong. And the only way to be strong is to stick together. When I would come to my mother with doubts about university, about traveling, about art making, she would always tell the same thing: "Do it. Don't think twice". This is real strength. This is what the feeling I want to share with this piece.

S.A.: I cannot agree more about the importance of mothers. I always say that true "art" is attained when the artist has no other choice, no other means of expression to express his views on the world.

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: Yes, I agree. In many ways, I am breaking the rules, the code that my family and tribe stand for. Finding art helped me push away my fears.

S.A.: Yes, you pursued your dream of becoming an artist.

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: You know it quite funny. While creating every figurines, I was completely contradicting my statements. I was sitting a home, baking 2700 figurines of clay. My friends would call me to go out, and I'd say 'No, I'm staying at home.' I had my pasta machine, I was baking, sitting in the kitchen for hours. I realized that it's really not that bad (laugh)!

Staying at home is also a strong decision. I mean, us Emirati women were not always so lucky to have maids to take care of the household to just spend our days at the mall. No, life before oil here was completely different. Women were in charge of finding food and cooking it with limited resources. They were busy with embroidery - making the home look and feel beautiful. And selling the pieces they produced. No maids, no cars, no malls. This can even be seen in Emirati names: many boys are named after their mother. Because she is the strength that held the family together and raised them. Whatever your path is, the important thing is the choice to make to commit to it.

S.A.: I see on your Tumblr some pictures of your travels across Europe. Can you talk about how traveling changed you and your practice?

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: In 2014, I went to Venice. This summer was life-changing. As part of the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation Venice Biennale Internship Program, I spent a month in Venice working in the UAE pavilion of the Biennale, 'Lest We Forget'. I was welcoming guests, explaining artworks to visitors, sharing stories of the UAE with people who have never been to my country: I was acting as the ambassador of my country to an international art crowd. We were also trained heavily and received lectures from renowned curators and artists present for the Biennale. I loved every second of it.

It was my first time traveling on my own, without my family. The only person I told was my mother, who as usual was very supportive. She said, "Do it". So I went, and lived for a month with other Emirati young interns in Venice. A highlight was to see in real life a building I drew in 2013 based on a Google image.

S.A.: What about how your family viewed your choice to stick with the art world?

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: My family, especially my brothers, would be critical of my studies in Visual Arts at university. Some friends as well. 5 years ago, they would all say: Why do you study art? What are you going to do with this degree afterwards? And now look. Abu Dhabi art fair. Saadiyat Island with the Louvre and Guggenheim coming. Art is booming and I am glad I can be part of this movement.

S.A.: Exactly. All these new projects reflects how the culture has changed to accept art as a serious endeavour for the growth of the UAE.

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: I am actively involved in the many workshops the Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) gives in Abu Dhabi. I give workshops to kids, teenagers, students, adults from all nationality. At first it was mostly expats coming to these classes, but I see a lot more locals now. You are right, the culture is changing.

S.A.: And so, what now? Any plans for the future? I hope you are continuing to make art.

Ghaleya Al Mansoori: Oh yes. SHE/little/FIERCE will be exhibited this November in Brussels, Belgium at the European Parliament. I am really excited for this opportunity.

I have also been chosen amongst 12 other young art graduates to be part of the Young Artist Fellowship that the Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation organises every year. A year-long residency in Abu Dhabi, culminating in an exhibition of works and a possibility to pursue an MFA in the Rhode Island School of Design after it.

Sophie Arni, November 2015, Abu Dhabi.
All of the images are reproductions and installation views of Ghaleya Al Mansoori's work. Courtesy of the artist.
No reproductions allowed.
Copyright Global Art Daily, 2016.