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HE Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums on Building Qatar’s Creative Economy

Photo: Alanoud Alghamdi

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that fashion plays an important role in representing one’s character and identity. How and what we wear, and when we wear our clothes, matter. As we grow up, and our taste evolves, fashion can signal certain milestones in our life and express who we are and who we want to be. For me, fashion has always told a story about where I was in my life. To be honest, as a young woman I really didn’t appreciate dressing up. Later, as I pursued a career in arts and culture, I developed a passion for fashion, and its ability to communicate beyond words.

Perhaps even more importantly, I love how fashion uniquely gives everyone a freedom to express his or her individual style. Personally, I like to wear sneakers with my abayas and with my casual and evening wear. While fashion is often passed down from generation to generation, my style could be characterized as being practical and comfortable, a quite ironic fact given that my mother, HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, is considered a style icon not only in Qatar, but the world at large. And yet I have learned much from the way she dresses, gracing the globe with her elegance and keeping up with the latest fashion trends, yet maintaining religious costume – all while empowering young women with tools on how to be eternally fashionable and culturally sensitive at the same time.

As Qatar celebrates hosting the first World Cup in the Arab world, I have no doubt we will be seeing all kinds of national costume and style. This moment offered a wonderful opportunity for me to commission international brands to create traditional abayas inspired by their respective runway collections. In 2022 alone, we have worked with Mohammed Benchellal, Adel Gader El Tayeb Al Sadig (winners of Fashion Trust Arabia 2021 prizes), Prada, Adidas, Off-White (with my dear friend, the late Virgil Abloh), Faye Toogood, Roni Helou (an FTA 2019 winner), Balmain, Valentino, Emilia Wickstead, Gabriela Hearst, Erdem, and Jeff Koons x Haarlianz to create unique abayas to suit our cultural needs.

It is no surprise that today, all major cultural institutions consider fashion exhibitions as part of their core public programs. Qatar Museums is no different. By showcasing fashion as an integral element connecting culture, not only do we take ownership of our identity, but we also enable an ecosystem for innovation and creation – what we dub the creative economy. The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) showcases fashion through our collections of textiles and paintings. The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) exhibits different forms of traditional clothes in its galleries. Mathaf: the Arab Museum of Modern Art helped launch the careers of such notable fashion brands as Wadha, by providing a platform for young designers to showcase their talent. The recently opened 3-2-1 Olympic and Sports Museum showcases what people wear for different sporting competitions, and how some athletes transform normal uniforms into fashionable items on and off the playing field. In 2018, we established Fashion Trust Arabia, a non-profit organization that aims to provide financial and business support as well as international recognition to the dynamic fashion designers in the Mena region. In the last three years – including during the global pandemic – Fashion Trust Arabia has supported and empowered regional talent to be both authentic and relevant. Many of the designs of the talented recipients of FTA grants are already worn by celebrities and used by stylists in editorial stories around the globe (including many in this issue). All our fashion programs also help us incubate talent for groundbreaking future projects, including the Dadu Children’s Museum, the Qatar Auto Museum, the Lusail Museum, and the Art Mill, and will enrich the region with collections that will inspire future generations. Parts of these projects will be on display as part of the Fifa World Cup 2022 program.

We have many talented fashion designers living in Doha who are part of a wider creative economy that is transforming our modern society. M7, our new fashion, design, and technology hub, will debut Forever Valentino, the largest exhibition to date on the Italian fashion house, and its first presentation in the Middle East, which follows the incredible run of Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams. Labour of Love, which explores Palestine’s traditional dress, will be exhibited at the QM Katara gallery. The Fire Station, opened in 2015, continues to support young artists living in Qatar, and the work of their Artist in Residence alumni is currently on display at Mathaf, where Qatari-American artist Sophia Al Maria and Palestinian artist Taysir Batniji are also exhibiting their works.

And the work doesn’t stop there. The Doha Film Institute has supported our regional film makers since its establishment in 2010, with 13 original films recently screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival – and three winners! Our new design studios, Liwan, housed in an incredibly restored former girls’ school in the Msheireb future city district, offer spaces to global brands like The Ned Hotel alongside local creatives so that projects feel holistic and are unmistakably Made in Doha. I’m proud to see the growth of the creative economy sector and impressed by the quality of talent that we have. Through the platforms we have created, young entrepreneurs are able to create a career for themselves in the creative world.

Having just turned 40, and published The Power of Culture, a series of reflections on Qatar’s journey of cultural development during the Fifa World Cup 2022, the biggest moment of sports in the Middle East, it’s evident that I’ve spent much of my adult life thinking about how culture plays an important role in globalizing the local and localizing the global. Culture sheds light on all of us: How we live, what we believe in, without feeling the need to give up on our own identities.

While I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight many of these exciting developments and regional cultural changemakers in the following pages, it was not an easy task, and I could have filled many more volumes with Qatar and the region’s talent. Nevertheless, I hope the stories and individuals selected here, who are paving the way for us to truly understand the Power of Culture, inspire you as much as they have inspired me. It is impossible to express all my gratitude to the individuals that have dedicated themselves to these industries, the invisible soldiers who every day help diversify our economy, nor is it possible to name all the talents this country and this region host. I only hope that by choosing a variety of people across creative spectrums, that represent the vast areas the creative economy covers, you, in turn, will reflect on all the possibilities ahead of you.

Read Next: HE Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, is the Guest Editor of the November 2022 Issue of Vogue Arabia

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