Today I am spending the morning at Tashkeel, a “hub for the creative” where artists and designers can come to work, exhibit and exchange views. Founded in 2008 by Sheikha Lateefa Bint Maktoum, the centre encourages cross-cultural dialogue and supports emerging artists who otherwise might not have a chance to develop their artistic vision.
I met Sheikha Lateefa a few weeks ago at Art Dubai and when she told me about Tashkeel, she also immediately invited me to come and visit. “That way you’ll really understand what we’re trying to achieve, and also what we already have achieved!” she said.
Sheikha Lateefa, a member of the Emirati royal family, is herself a visual artist and while her focus lies on the fine arts, she is increasingly moving towards photography and exploring photomontage and the digital manipulation of images.
“Art is an integral part of my life,” she tells me as we sit down in one of the meeting lounges. “It’s like breathing to me – I can’t live without it. That’s also why I chose art instead of design. I want to be free to develop my work as I choose and not be limited by a client’s requirements.”
“But at the same time you have a very pronounced vision of art and the role it can play in the community and between cultures,” I say.
“Yes, that’s right. I envisioned Tashkeel as a breeding ground for artists, but also as a place where artists could connect to each other. We bring together established and up-and-coming artists and we also encourage exchange between different disciplines: photographers and sculptors, painters and video artists. This often leads to fascinating results.”
“It’s an interesting period now for Emirati art. Do you also see this in the work being produced at Tashkeel?”
“Definitely,” says Sheikha Lateefa. “There is a strong oral tradition here, but this is changing. There is a massive shift across the whole Emirati art scene and change is really the common thread for all contemporary artists here in UAE. It’s an exciting time.”
“There’s also a strong intercultural dimension to Tashkeel’s mission. Can you tell me more about that?”
“We very much encourage dialogue between local artists and visiting artists from the West. Since last year we also have an artist-in-residence program, which allows a foreign artist to come and live and work in the Tashkeel studio spaces for a period of one year. So far this has been a great success.”
“It strikes me that a lot of what Tashkeel does is about breaking down barriers and empowerment.”
Sheikha Lateefa thinks for a moment and then says: “I guess that’s right. I have always wanted to give artists a voice and a space in which they can freely create. I love seeing people achieve and even surpass their goals – to become better at what they already excel at.
“That sounds selfless and as though I’m doing it all for others,” she adds, “but in fact it is a huge source of inspiration to me: watching other people getting inspired, inspires me.
“I strongly believe that you need to support each other to move forward and evolve, within the community, but also across cultures. That is how you really build strong cultural currents.”
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