By Hessa Al Shuwaihi, Head of Communications and Public Diplomacy, UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. and Munira Al Sayegh, Founder, Dirwaza Curatorial Lab

The Maجlis: Connecting Cultures through Art

October 28, 2022

By Hessa Al Shuwaihi, Head of Communications and Public Diplomacy, UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. and Munira Al Sayegh, Founder, Dirwaza Curatorial Lab

A woman enjoying an ice cream cone through a veil, a grandmother and granddaughter sharing stories through simple illustrations, and a caped female figure carrying her family’s possessions on her shoulders were some of the artistic expressions on display at While the Coffee Grounds Settle: Stories from Women in the UAE –  an art exhibition honoring the role of women in Emirati society and the experiences shared by women everywhere.

While the Coffee Grounds Settle, which ran from September 23 – October 14, 2022 at the Fathom Gallery in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.), was the product of a joint collaboration between the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. and Dirwaza Curatorial Lab, an Abu Dhabi-based cultural incubator. It featured works by a diverse group of 26 UAE-based female artists who spanned nationalities, generations and artistic styles.

The exhibition was, at its core, a celebration of women in the Emirates, and a reflection of the UAE’s deeply held values of diversity and gender equality.

In the 50 years since the UAE’s founding, women have contributed significantly to all aspects of Emirati society.

From engineers and astronauts, to poets and entrepreneurs, women in the UAE are blazing new trails and leading the Emirates forward.

Women are also at the vanguard of the UAE’s burgeoning cultural scene, leading a majority of the country’s art institutions.

While the Coffee Grounds Settle featured a small subset of the many female artists who are shaping the Emirates’ vibrant, diverse creative ecosystem.

Among the exhibitors were digital artist Ghada Al Sayegh and painter ARUUA whose works explore the individual subconscious. Also featured were abstract painters Dr. Najat Makki and Bénédicte Gimonnet who examine the concept of social collectives in their respective works, as well as sculptor and jeweler Azza Al Qubaisi who explores Emirati identity through art.

art1  art2

(Artwork L-R: Bénédicte Gimonnet, Brissago I, II, III, IV, V, VI; Azza Al Qubaisi, Seeking Identity series, Foundation 2)

Through this exhibition, we also sought to foster greater understanding between Americans and Emiratis, and give the US public the unique opportunity to learn more about the UAE’s traditions and values through art.

Indeed, one common refrain among visitors to the exhibition was that many of the experiences of women depictedby the artists mirror those of women in the US.

Among the artworks that struck a chord with American visitors was Taqwa Alnaqbi’s piece, My Grandmother’s Drawings Key, which explores the unique and playful method of communication between grandmother and granddaughter. This artwork encouraged visitors to the exhibition to recall their own traditions with their elderly family members, and the ways in which they sought to bridge the generational divide and connect through conversation.

American women also saw themselves and their foremothers in Ayesha Hadhir’s Labsat el Bsht, a painting representing the crucial, but oft-unwritten, role of women in nation-building.


(Artwork L-R: Taqwa Alnaqbi, My Grandmother’s Drawings Key; Ayesha Hadhir, Labsat el Bsht)

Visitors to the exhibition also remarked about the similar challenges that both Emirati and American women face, using as points for discussion Maitha Hamdan’s critique of societal expectations surrounding ladylike behavior through her video performance piece Precautions, and Shaikha Al Ketbi’s examination of impostor syndrome in her painting Maryool.


(Artwork: Shaikha Al Ketbi, Maryool)

We were delighted that the While the Coffee Grounds Settle sparked these important discussions and helped Americans learn more about our home country and the strong, smart and ambitious women who call the UAE home.

As many visitors departed the gallery, they remarked that this exhibition made them want to book a ticket to visit the Emirates.

We’ll have the coffee ready and waiting for them.