The Eye of the Palm

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

When she’s not prospecting palm fronds on her family’s date plantation or crafting transcendent jewellery pieces, Azza Al Qubaisi is in her studio at the Cultural Foundation making something, anything.


Azza Al Qubaisi is a trailblazer, and her pieces reflect her thought-provoking perceptions of nature while preserving local traditions. Respectful of the past, she wants to pave the way for a new wave of Emirati artists. Yalla was lucky to catch up with Azza.


Spiraling rapidly towards the sky, you can’t miss the rusting mild steel palm tree installation when you enter the Cultural Foundation. The sculpture is an elegant — if not poetic — reminder of the intricate details that can emerge from looking closely at any given object.


We walk through her commissioned sculpture, Foundation of Life, on view in the lobby of the Cultural Foundation. “While I have worked in so many materials from 24k gold to asphalt, mild steel is my favourite medium,” Azza explains. “It feels earthy. I love how it rusts and ages. To me, it feels alive.”


Azza makes everything, but she first made a name for herself in jewellery design. She’s famous locally and internationally for her one-of-a-kind jewels. With this piece, she broke away from the limitations of wearable art, saying, “I wanted to create an artwork where the human feels small in relation to the art. In jewellery, the human wears it because it’s small, and it fits you.


Here, the sculpture wears the viewer.” And, it does. One feels quite small within it. As you spiral within the installation, the journey is dizzying, much like Azza’s own life experiences. “Palms reflect my identity. A decade ago, I pondered what it means to be Emirati. Is it how we dress, what we wear or eat? I had so many questions and debates with other artists. In the end, I decided to listen only to the inner me, what it meant for me to be Emirati. Collectively, it can be many things. Individually, we all have a different journey in life and experience of our nationality.”


“This spiral reflects my journey: the people I’ve met through life and my growth because we never become less of who we are; we have no choice but to grow. You only become more as you walk through life and people influence you, the ups and downs, and the losses and gains. I used palms to represent my journey. I tried to mimic nature as best I could.”


Azza adds, “things in nature rarely grow symmetrically, much like our journey through life — things often go off course. When we go off course, we find the interesting bits, and I try to capture those offshoots in my art.”


On the significance of working at this location, Azza says, “I have worked very closely with the Foundation in advance of its reopening since my first solo exhibition here in 2004. The Foundation is very meaningful to many UAE artists, because most of us got our start here in one way or another. It is both my mission and that of the Foundation to help more artists find their calling.”


See Azza’s work and visit her workshop at the Cultural Foundation.



Published on March 2019

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