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“Independence is everything” — Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi on Shaping the Artistic Legacy of Sharjah with Courage and Vision

Hard-working and passionate, Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi is shaping the artistic legacy of Sharjah – and her brother – with courage and vision…

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Sheikha Hoor wears jumper, Sheikha Hoor’s own; dress, socks, shoes, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; earrings, rings, Sohail Abdullah. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Tick, tick, tick, tick. “Done. My meeting in Sharjah is pushed back and now I can stay one more day,” pronounces Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, her long, white-painted nails swiping the screen of her phone. Busier than ever, the Emirati royal is in Marrakech for our cover shoot, after spending more than a month in Pakistan, where she curated the second edition of the Lahore Biennale. For this project, the president and director of Sharjah Art Foundation took over 13 locations across town – “I wanted more but they were like,‘Hey, slow down,’” she laughs – giving new life to spaces such as an abandoned planetarium or a site perilously close to a chaotic cricket stadium. “I think I’ve been doing my job for 18 years now. And although I’m always busy, it’s a great honor to be invited to do these things,” she shares with her tender but assertive voice. “Nobody goes to Pakistan. Everybody goes to India. Everyone keeps saying, ‘Oh, but it’s so dangerous,’ but it’s not risky at all. As a woman, I walked down the street on my own and it was fine – even late at night. The city is so beautiful. Lahore is a place to fall in love with.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi wears jumper, her own; dress, socks, shoes, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; pants, Rochas; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman; earrings, rings, Sohail Abdullah. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

I watch the royal cruising carefree through the Marrakech medina with this same determination, exploring with curiosity a little store that sells rugs and ottomans, followed by a stand with accessories. Although she is the daughter of HH Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, one of the most loved GCC royals, don’t expect her to manifest as a fairytale princess. In fact, Sheikha Al Qasimi hates to be called “princess.” Instead, she is a practical woman, with a great sense of humor, who speaks eight languages and travels carrying her own luggage.“My parents pushed us to learn languages and see the world. That was always part of our upbringing, and we were never raised as royals. We were just raised to do everything ourselves. Even when I was in school and people would say, ‘Oh, so and so’s daughter is studying here…’ I would just sit there rolling my eyes. People didn’t know about us. Why would they?” She reflects when asked how it was to grow up in a royal home. “Our childhood revolved around studying. My mom pushed us. We had tutors after school and on the weekend. We just studied, studied, studied. And I like that. This gave us structure to understand that we have a job that comes with tasks and obligations. And having a job is important, as independence is everything.”

“Having a job is important, as independence is everything”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Sheikha Hoor wears jumper, own; dress, socks, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; pants, Rochas; earrings, rings, Sohail Abdullah. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

For Sheikha Al Qasimi, life would probably be easier if she only had “a” job. Instead, her CV is filled with several big titles, and as many hats as one can wear. Along with leading the Sharjah Art Foundation, she serves as the Sharjah Biennial director, playing a pivotal role in positioning the emirate as a revered art hub regionally and internationally. Sheikha Al Qasimi is also president of the Africa Institute of Sharjah and chair of the board for the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, which inaugurated its first edition in November 2019. No less impressive is her role on the board of directors for MoMA PS1 in New York; Kunst-Werke Berlin e. V. in Germany; and Ashkal Alwan in Beirut. The list goes on and on. And let’s not forget her passion projects: she is a proud, self-taught restaurateur, owning Fen and Abayomi restaurants, both 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,” says the Sheikha. When asked if she considers herself a workaholic, she pauses and smiles, “Oh, definitely. I think it’s good to work.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Sheikha Hoor wears dress, Balenciaga; hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; necklace, Jean Paul Gaultier. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

While Sheikha Al Qasimi may now be a reference in the art world, she had to prove her talent like anyone else. She tells me she had to work double as hard to establish her points and contest any notions that her job was given to her as a result of family ties. In a previous interview with Vogue Arabia, she shared that when she took over the Sharjah Biennial, founded in 1993 by her father, the event was in desperate need of a revamp, being held in a convention center. At the age of 22, with a handful of staff, she completely redefined the program, moved it to a new location, hung art, and swept the floors herself. “During a trip to Berlin with my father, we visited the Documenta11 contemporary art exhibition. I was inspired by the way contemporary art connected with the real world, politics, and social issues,” she explains. “I wanted to know why our biennial wasn’t looking at things like this. I wanted to see how the process worked in Sharjah. I promised my father I wasn’t going to interfere, but of course, I did. I asked why we were in a trade/expo center, even though we have an arts area. Old Sharjah Biennial was like an art fair, but we’re not a commercial art fair, we’re non- profit and cultural. The organizers quit, so it became my job.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Sheikha Hoor wears dress, Balenciaga; hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman; rings, Zohra Rahman; pearl ring, Sheikha Hoor’s own. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Today, Sheikha Al Qasimi oversees a staff of 200 and the Sharjah Biennial is consistently rated as one of the top 10 biennials in the world.

The sun is setting in Marrakech, filling the terrace on top of Hassan Hajjaj’s riad with a golden light only found in this city. Although she was photographed the day before, Sheikha Al Qasimi has decided to visit the venue, while Egyptian star Yousra is being shot by the Moroccan photographer, with a live band playing traditional local songs. As we sit in a quieter place, we start discussing her new role as creative director of the London-based menswear brand Qasimi, founded by her twin brother, Sheikh Khaled Al Qasimi, who passed away abruptly last July. “You know, it’s very hard. It’s very emotional. I don’t think that I’ve grieved, to be honest. In the beginning, it was more about looking after my parents and my sisters. He was my twin and we had such a connection… I don’t feel like he’s gone sometimes, and I often dream of Khaled,” she shares. Honoring her brother’s life and passion, she stepped into his shoes, following as closely as possible the five-year plan he left behind. “For me it’s important to make this as successful as I can for him, now that he is gone. It’s hard because although fashion and arts mix, the commercial side is new to me. I’ve always worked in nonprofits; now, it’s different.”

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More than just the business side, Sheikh Khaled’s presence is felt more than ever in the most recent designs, celebrating his life and heritage. One of the best examples is the first collection Sheikha Al Qasimi has overseen, where the rising sun – a motif linked with Sharjah’s iconography – is reinterpreted in some looks, now as a sunset, paired with the sentence “To rise again.” The Sheikha also decided to include two quotes she found on her brother’s mood board, hanging in his office. Written on T-shirts and sweatshirts, the sacred expressions “For I am near” and “We are never parted” are touching and clear reminders that Sheikha Al Qasimi will never forget her twin, and the company is in the best hands possible. “It will always be my brother’s office, my brother’s team, and my brother’s label.”

Originally published in the March 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

Photography Hassan Hajjaj 
Style Katie Trotter & Lisa Jarvis
Creative producer Laura Prior  
Art accomplice Ebon Heath 
Second assistant Tariq Hajjaj
Local producer Marie Courtin 
Hair Sadek Lardjane 
Makeup Jo Frost
Photography assistants Hasnae El Quarga and Meriem Yin
Style assistant Alexandria Lefevre 
Runner Yazid Bezaz, Abdelali Boukrimi, Mohammed Ajib
Studio Riad Yima, Marrakech
With special thanks to Four Seasons Resort Marrakech

Read Next: 10 Life Lessons to Learn from Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi

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