Emirati fashion designer Madiyah Al-Sharqi inspired by Indian summers

Updated 02 July 2019
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Emirati fashion designer Madiyah Al-Sharqi inspired by Indian summers

DUBAI: Middle Eastern designers have always been a favorite amongst international celebrities when it comes to red-carpet dressing.

Oscars night is incomplete without one of the winners picking up their statuette wearing a dress by a designer from the region.

Of late, Middle East talent has also been spotted in Hollywood for other occasions as more of the region’s designers turn to contemporary fashion, and one such pioneer is 29-year-old Madiyah Al-Sharqi.

The daughter of the ruler of Fujairah, in the UAE, Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sharqi, she launched her eponymous label in 2012. The first store to carry her designs was Dubai’s Symphony, and her outfits have been worn by US-Colombian actress Sofia Vergara and American model Paris Jackson.

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This summer Al-Sharqi’s collection, inspired by former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s visit to India in 1962, has been one of her strongest to date, featuring metallic tops, gingham jumpsuits and fun T-shirts; perfect for summer travel.

Details such as bishop sleeves, button-down styles and wraparounds give it a feeling of nostalgia, yet she kept it very au courant with cold-shoulders, cami dresses and ruffles.

“I’ve always been fond of looking to the past as a source of inspiration and often find myself gravitating toward the 1960s and 1970s,” said Al-Sharqi.

Her gold-wrap dress caught the eye of US celebrity Khloe Kardashian who wore it for singer Diana Ross’ 75th birthday.

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The Emirati designer is proud of her roots, and while she sources fabrics from Paris (and for this summer’s line all the sequined materials came from India), everything is made at her atelier in Fujairah.

Al-Sharqi understands the importance of celebrity dressing in taking the “Made in the Middle East” story forward. Recently, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra wore an olive-green paisley jacket from her summer collection and tastemakers Lana El-Sahely and Marwa Meme Biltagi have also been seen in her items.

Al-Sharqi’s pieces are available on The Modist and her website. “We’re looking to the 1970s this fall. Some of the most iconic women who’ve made a name for themselves in fashion and music came out of that decade.”


Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

  • Inside the Emirati artist’s inaugural solo exhibition in London, ‘I Met a Traveler From an Antique Land’

LONDON: You are searching for treasure. Several potential locations are marked with an ‘x’ on your map. You move methodically from site to site, always to be met with disappointment — never striking gold. Are you, in following trails set by others, missing the treasure ‘hidden’ in plain view?

This is one of the conundrums posed in the artworks of Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al-Nahyan, whose inaugural solo exhibition in London presented a thought-provoking range of work fusing the ancient past with modern life.

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins, reflecting Arab, Roman and Phoenician influences. She described the coins, embedded in the marble, as symbolic of the great treasures buried in secret locations that were sought out and fought over by many. 

Al-Nahyan named her exhibition — held at Pi Artworks from June 25 to July 7 — with the opening line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”: “I met a traveler from an antique land.” (Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.)

Mishmash Dirham. (Supplied) 

The poem, published in 1818, imagines a meeting between the narrator and a traveller who describes a ruined statue lying in the desert. The description of the statue is a meditation on the fragility of human power and on the effects of time: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“Maybe a positive thing from looking to the past is that it proves it is only human to repeat the mistake and the lesson,” Al-Nahyan told Arab News. “Studying the past is a realization of human nature, individually or in groups, right or wrong. This natural feeling of connectivity is something I usually aim for.”

There is humor in some of her work — particularly the depictions of old commercial airline advertisements from the 1950s and 60s with ancient figures superimposed in the frames. They certainly give the viewer pause for thought about how much our world has changed in the short time since air travel became widely available.

The exhibition’s curator, Janet Rady, said of Al-Nahyan: “She has been practicing art from a very young age and is self-taught. She is incredibly talented, and you see this in the wide range of her work, which uses all sorts of different media. I can’t necessarily call her a pop artist or a collage artist or an installation artist; she is in fact all of these things, but it is the concept behind her work — connecting the past with the present — which is important.”

The UAE’s UK ambassador, Mansoor Abulhoul, was present at the opening and he particularly admired Al-Nahyan’s works based on the classic wooden board game Carrom paired with a modern video game.

Carrom Station in Motion. (Supplied) 

“I first played Carrom with my cousins as a boy, and she has combined it with modern computer games, which is very creative,” he said. He pointed out that her innovative work ties in well with the dynamic of the UAE.

“Next year we have EXPO 2020, with its theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’ It’s very much about our roots and how we take them forward, how we develop the mind and global cooperation,” he said. 

The exhibition included a short clip from Al-Nahyan’s upcoming film “Athel,” written by Al-Nahyan’s sister, Sheikha Shamsa. It centers on a strange encounter in the desert between a pre-Islamic poet and a modern-day TV presenter. “Athel” is set for release later this year and stars Hala Shiha and Mansour Al-Fili.

“The idea behind it all is taken from the tradition of Arabic poetry — its wisdom and, sometimes, risks,” Al-Nahyan explained. “And ending with a realization of one tribal law putting redemption and family before all.” She added that there are some “light-hearted” moments in the film too.

Arabic poetry is an ongoing inspiration for Al-Nahyan’s work, adding another layer of meaning to many of her pieces.

“The Arabic language is poetic, and Arabs and other cultures around the world have documented their lives through poetry,” she said. “So, for example, when tackling the topic of what is considered treasure, we found different meanings in various verses. Like when (pre-Islamic poet) Zuhair Bin Abi Salma refers to glory as the only true treasure.”

There is a much to absorb and reflect on in this exhibition which opens windows into many facets of Arab history and culture and poses universal questions about humanity and what constitutes real treasure.