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10 Life Lessons to Learn from Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi photographed by Ziga Mihelcic for Vogue Arabia March 2019

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi has a daunting legacy to follow, considering her father is HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammad Al-Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah. However, the Sheikha is carving her own path in the cultural sector, elevating the third-largest UAE emirate to an art hub renowned around the world. As someone who embodies Vogue Arabia’s mission to promote regional talent and break cultural barriers through inclusive storytelling, it seemed fitting for this leader to star on the March 2020 cover of our third-anniversary issue. Read on to learn the ten lessons inspired by the Emirati royal that we can all implement into our own lives.

Do what you love and love what you do

It’s often said that work doesn’t feel like work if you’re doing what you love. Pursuing her innate desire for creativity, the Sheikha transformed her passion for art into a more-than-fulltime career as president and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation and director of Sharjah Biennial, among a multitude of other roles in the creative scene. Under the Sheikha’s leadership, the Sharjah Biennial has been repeatedly ranked as one of the top ten biennials in the world out of the hundreds of international exhibitions considered, proving that passion⁠—and hard work⁠—does indeed breed success.

If you want the job done right, don’t be afraid do it yourself

While she may have a lot of jobs to accomplish, the Sheikha is not one to shy away from taking tasks upon herself that would typically be delegated by other leaders to not only ensure it’s done, but also done to her standards. Before the inaugural Sharjah Film Platform last year that premiered various international features, Al Qasimi herself watched each and every submission in between curating the packed program of workshops and presentations. “This year, we had more than 450 submissions for the open call and I watched all of them,” Al Qasimi revealed to Vogue Arabia previously. “I selected more than 140 from 40 countries in 30 different languages.”

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi photographed by Ziga Mihelcic for Vogue Arabia March 2019

Being busy is not the same as being productive

Although she admits she’s a “workaholic”, the Sheikha is selective about which jobs she accepts so she can devote the appropriate care and energy to each position. In addition to her previous roles mentioned, Al Qasimi is also president of the Africa Institute of Sharjah, chair of the board for the Sharjah Architecture Triennial as well as on the board of directors for MoMA PS1 in New York, Kunst-Werke Berlin e. V. in Germany, and Ashkal Alwan in Beirut. However, this nonstop lifestyle for almost two decades now has shaped her time management skills into an enviable science, giving her the opportunity to continue adding roles—such as curator of the second Lahore Biennial—with only a slight rearrangement of her agenda. “I think I’ve been doing my job for 18 years now,” Al Qasimi told Vogue Arabia. “And although I’m always busy, it’s a great honor to be invited to do these things.”

The arts have an indescribable power on a community

Taking on her father’s mantle and nurturing the burgeoning local art scene in the UAE after becoming the UNESCO World Book Capital in 2019 and joining a limited list of Creative Cities across the world, Al Qasimi has helped Sharjah grow into a cultural epicenter of the emirates and the world overall. This profound appreciation for the arts has catalyzed the bridging of the Middle East with other communities as the UAE welcomes many acclaimed international talents, such as Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and American experimentalist Robert Breer.

One of the many exhibitions organized by the Sharjah Art Foundation and Sheikha Al Qasimi, the second edition of the annual Air Arabia Curator in Residence Exhibition welcomed with HE Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development. Photo: Instagram/@sharjahart

Also Read: Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi’s Mission Is Putting A Spotlight On The Middle East Art Scene

Take advantage of assumptions

Challenging preconceived notions that her family handed her everything on a silver platter from the very beginning, the Sheikha began surpassing expectations at the age of 22 when she stepped into her position as director of the Sharjah Biennial. Although she only had a staff of four working alongside her, that didn’t deter Al Qasimi from breathing originality into the 1993- established art exhibition and completely reinventing its venue, program, and perception—all while sweeping the floors herself.  “I started to think that nobody would take me seriously as a painter if I’m already a director of a biennial at 22,” she shared. “I thought people would say I only got it because of who my father is. I remember a Korean artist I had been communicating with over email visiting and exclaiming when she saw me, ‘You’re the director? I expected an old man.’ The idea of me being 22 and a woman was weird in the international art world at the time. I thought that no matter how hard I worked, people would always say it’s because I’m the daughter of someone important. There’s always that assumption, which makes me work even harder.”

Life isn’t always a straight path and that’s OK

Although it’s clear Al Qasimi has found her calling in the arts industry, she wasn’t always sure what she wanted to do while growing up. “When I was 14, I wanted to be a chef,” she previously confided. “Back then, in the 90s, chefs weren’t cool. I remember my mother saying, ‘So you want to be a cook?’ After that, I wanted to go into furniture design; I would do woodwork and make chairs with the carpenter working at our home. And then my mother’s question was,‘Now you want to be a carpenter?’ It didn’t go down well, either.” Nonetheless, the Sheikha’s winding journey helped her understand where her true expertise lay so don’t look down on the unknown but encourage it as a learning experience.

Sometimes you just have to buckle down and commit

While this may not be advisable on the day-to-day, triumph is sometimes only the fruit of tireless labor, such as with Al Qasimi’s first Biennial. “I worked day and night, 20 hours a day, seven days a week. I had a nervous breakdown afterward because I was exhausted. But it was something I had to do.”

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi photographed by Ziga Mihelcic for Vogue Arabia March 2019


Sprinkle your life with passion projects

Even if your day job is a career you enjoy, dedicate time to your other hobbies, which can in turn also turn into something more. Along with her artistic roles, Al Qasimi balances her hectic schedule to include time for her Fen and Abayomi restaurants in Sharjah. “I’ve always been active mentally, and want to do and learn things. I feel a lot of reward in what I do. I’m exhausted, but it’s worth it.”

Embrace the global culture of the world 

It’s no secret the world is becoming a melting pot as globalization continues to bring people from all backgrounds together. As an avid traveler and speaker of eight languages, Al Qasimi embraced this importance of cross-cultural understanding from a young age, thanks to her family. “My parents pushed us to learn languages and see the world. That was always part of our upbringing.”

Honor the past and look to the future

After her twin brother’s unexpected passing last year, Al Qasimi was thrust into his role as creative director of the London-based menswear brand Qasimi, even though fashion was a completely new field for her. While she looks to the future of the label, the Sheikha is also honoring her brother’s legacy through collections rooted in his designs and motifs from his mood boards and five-year plan. “It will always be my brother’s office, my brother’s team, and my brother’s label.”

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