Today, the United Arab Emirates looks at the contribution of women across the country in the roles of business, government, and industry. While there are many to note, Vogue.me spotlights seven rising star names that made headlines in the past year, in celebration of Emirati Women’s Day. From a jiu jitsu fighter to a film director, read on for seven outstanding Emirati women in the fields of art, science, and sports to watch.
Nayla Al Khaja
Filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja made history during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in May as the first Emirati director and producer to ever have a project accepted by the film festival’s prestigious Producers Network—a networking event that serves to help finalize international co-productions. Al Khaja submitted her screenplay for Animal, a feature-length version of her own 2016 short of the same name, which would go on to become one of 500 entries submitted to the network. The 40-year-old founder of Nayla Al Khaja films has three movies under her belt (Animal, The Neighbour, Three), and continues to nurture young, aspiring filmmakers in the region through her platform.
Emirati painter Fatma Lootah had her artworks displayed in New York’s bustling Time Square earlier this month, with the pieces a vibrant celebration of life and culture in the UAE and beyond. Her works were projected from the wall of the iconic Nasdaq tower for a few days, allowing throngs of visitors and tourists in midtown Manhattan to get a glimpse of the UAE’s rich heritage. The Dubai-raised creative was the latest Nasdaq Artist in Residence, which is an initiative that supports emerging artists by projecting their works onto the stock exchange’s HQ. Lootah has been known to capture many of the UAE’s leading figures, such as HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in touching portraits.
Mahra Al Hanaei
Jiu-jitsu champion Mahra Al Hanaei made the UAE proud at this week’s 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta. The 17-year-old took home a silver medal on the opening day of the competition, following a spar against Cambodian native Jessa Khan in the women’s 49-kilogram jiu-jitsu final. The mixed martial arts fighter had previously beat out Vietnam’s Thi Thanh Minh Duong by a whopping 14-0 in the semi-finals. Hanaei’s triumph would secure one of the UAE’s three silver medals in the competition. Hanaei hails from a family of award-winning fighters, and took up the combat-based sport over six years ago. She has won a number of regional and international tournaments, and is a member of the UAE national team.
Farah Al Qasimi
In March, New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) selected young Emirati photographer Farah Al Qasimi as this year’s New York NADA Artadia Prize winner. The accolade was given out at the opening day of the seventh edition of the NADA fair. Al Qasimi, who is known for her beguiling portraits depicting materialism and gender relations in the UAE, took home US $5,000 (approximately AED/SAR 18,000). The prize is awarded to one artist showing at the fair each year. The Yale graduate, who was born in Abu Dhabi, has had her vivid photography displayed in Paris and London, as well as in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
Zahra Lari is known as the first Emirati figure skater, breaking the #ArabFirst of being an professional ice skater hailing from this Middle Eastern country when she qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Months later, the Emirati athlete made international headlines again when she was tapped to star in the official campaign for Nike’s groundbreaking and hotly-anticipated Nike Pro Hijab. Additionally, Lahri was one of the young athletes who helped in the design of the athletic garment by testing out different prototypes of the product.
Maha Al Shamsi
Originally from Al Ain, Dubai-based Maha Mubarak Al Shamsi is a car enthusiast and collector. With an enviable line-up of luxury vehicles, Al Shamsi is the boundary-breaking owner of a Lamborghini Huracan Performante, a McLaren 675LT, and two Bentleys, according to The National. This year, the 28-year-old is set to make headlines (and history) as the first Emirati woman to join the Supercars Club Arabia’s Andelosia rally tour through Europe. Not only will Al Shamsi be the first Emirati female to take part in the event, she will also be the only woman competing in this year’s rally, which is set to kick off on September 2.
Alia Al Mansoori
Alia Al Mansoori is a teenager who won a UAE competition seeking proposals for experiments to be tested on the International Space Station when she was only 15 years old. The child prodigy, who was one of five finalists in the competition, got to to watch the launch of a rocket in Florida that carried her winning experiment into space, in addition to meeting HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. And in April, the aspiring astronaut, who has become a household name in the world of science, got to attend the 114th Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York, which is the world’s largest event honoring leading explorers and scientists.