Are you the UAE's best artist?

Get creative at the Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award


Paintbrushes at the ready: entries are now invited for the annual Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award (YAA). The arts competition, open to all UAE residents, was established in 2006 by HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and has proved popular not only among university students majoring in art, design and multimedia, but also among other creative UAE residents, and continues to grow year on year.

There are three categories to enter, spanning fine art, digital photography and multimedia, with an award for each category chosen by a panel of industry professionals and senior practising artists. There is also the ‘people’s choice’ award, chosen by the public via an online vote. We spoke to Sarah Ayoub Agha, project manager for the YAA and supervisor of Funoon – the artists’ community web page for Dubai Ladies Club –
to get the lowdown.

What’s the idea behind the YAA?
The philosophy behind this initiative is to recognise the creative and pioneering thinking that resides within the UAE. The arts have been proven to enhance a person’s ability to appreciate a world steeped in diversity, and we believe that art initiatives such as this are essential for building innovative thinkers who will be tomorrow’s world leaders.

Who are this year’s judges?
On the panel this year are Khalil Abdulwahid, a visual arts manager at Dubai Culture & Arts Authority; Ebtisam Abdulaziz, an Emirati artist; Ramin Salsali, an art collector and founder of the Salsali Private Museum; Rami Farook, the director and curator of Traffic gallery; and Arsalan Mohammad, editor of Harper’s Bazaar Art magazine.

What’s in it for the winners?
The prize money totals Dhs185,000. Each category winner, runner-up and second runner-up will receive a cash prize worth Dhs30,000, Dhs20,000 and Dhs10,000 respectively. However, the prize is not meant to
be an end in itself, but a means within a broader strategy for spurring talented individuals in the UAE to greater things. Past winners have gained so much more than just the cash prize. The award has opened up their future career prospects through public and media recognition. It has given them the opportunity to be noticed by key members from the local and international art community. In fact, on many occasions we’ve noticed that the judges also take a personal interest in particular winning or shortlisted artists, taking the trouble to mentor them and later include them in other art-related projects and events.

Can you give examples of how winning the award benefited artists in previous years?
Personally, I’m an example of the many doors that the award can open up for the winners. I was a winner in the Fine Arts category in 2006, and the recognition opened up numerous other opportunities for me, such as being invited by galleries to take part in group and solo exhibitions, and being noticed by collectors and art patrons. I was also able to pursue my masters in Fine Arts from London Metropolitan University, completely sponsored by a generous art patron from the UAE. Other winners who have also done very well for themselves are Fathima Mohuiddin, who was the Fine Art winner in 2010: she recently founded The Domino, an artist-run creative agency in Dubai. Then there’s Mohammed Hindash, who was Fine Art second runner-up in 2010 and is fast becoming one of the strongest talents in the city. Also Aya Atoui, who was the Photography & Multimedia winner in 2011, is making a name for herself as a gifted photographer.

What are your expectations from this year’s entrants?
We’re looking for work that is distinctively rich in content and style. We want these young artists to challenge themselves to find innovative and unconventional uses for different mediums and push the boundaries of artistic technique.

The deadline for entries is Thursday November 1; the gala awards night will be held in December, date and venue TBC. For more information and to enter, see

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