Dr.Reem El Mutwalli

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Dr. Reem El Mutwalli is a gem of a person. Meeting her was like going back to the rich past and discovering unknown facts. A pro in the field of History and Arts, Dr. Reem portrays her expertise on different mediums quite proficiently and with great finesse. After meeting her, we were sure that art and design are the foundation of Dr. Reem’s world.

1.What’s your take on the region’s cultural and fashion history?

I am an author and a scholar; my field is Islamic Art and Archaeology.

I have written a few reference books related to the culture and history of the United Arab Emirates, one of them is depicted in the exhibition here called Sultani – Traditions Renewed, the history of the evolution of women’s dress in the UAE during the reign of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. I also have a collection of 170 articles of dress that date back to pre-oil period to date. This collection was collected through my contacts, my personal usage of them as I grew up in this country.

2.How were things when you first came to the UAE?

I came to the UAE in 1968 with my father who was invited by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as the Economic Consultant of the Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who is the President today. I lived among the UAE people, I learned their tradition and I experienced it. I wore many of these dresses because I represented the UAE as the head of the Arts & Exhibition Departments of the Culture Foundation. That is one of the first Institutions that were concerned by Art, Culture & Education.


3.What made you to showcase your creations at different places?

When I appeared in public, I wore many of these dresses and then eventually I decided to study the subject. I began to go through a process of an educated collection in order to make the collection that was complete with me and I published a book, it is the reference book on this subject, I was asked and approached by Fashion Forward, D3 and Dubai Fashion Council to create an installation during this event here in D3 that represents the UAE culture, because these dresses are very delicate, they are old and they are valuable. The last time we showed 18 pcs. out of the 170 and they were evaluated at 1.5 million dollars, so it was a very very valuable collection. Therefore we decided that it is best to showcase it in a visual format rather than to present the dresses themselves. On each Banner at the bottom, you will find the name of the lady who owned the dress before it became a part of the Sultani collection.

4.Tell us something about your concept of past, present and future.

In order to create an installation, I decided to do 3 portals PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE, whereby the audience will walk through a walkway that’s composed of one of the motives that are very traditional the polka dot motives in many of the UAE dresses. So you walk through this portal from past to present to future and you contemplate the past, pay homage to them and then you come out from the past with the look to the future (that is the inspiration tower of the future). And this is basically what Fashion Forward I think carries as a message – hosting young artist, young designers, homegrown designers, who must throw forward from their background and their surroundings and represent works that will be the future, so that’s my idea.

5.What about the book, where all has it been sold?

I published the book in 2011 the first edition and it sold out so we republished the same book, actually we condensed it because the first publication was 3 volumes and it became an issue to carry it, it’s a door stopper because it’s heavy. We condensed it into a thousand words, it became 2 volumes and we tried to keep more information in it. The information is there but we condensed the number of the images and we reproduced it with the launch the Design District in 2015 in collaboration with them and that edition is almost sold out, we have less than a 100 books available.

6.What mediums did you use to promote and sell?

I sold them myself. People follow me on Instagram and contact us and we sell. We either mail it to them or deliver it to them if they are in town and so on. It’s an expensive book, the set of 2 volumes is for AED1500 but I think people are so interested that we are running out of them which is amazing. They are very unique because 5 artists worked on the book. It took me 8 years to produce the book because I wanted it in 2 languages simultaneously, so whether you read it in Arabic or English, the paragraphs are the same, so you don’t get a headache especially for those who speak both the languages.

7.What made the book special?

Every page is designed uniquely, usually when you do a book, you do a master page and it is repeated throughout the book. In this book, there is no template, every page is different; so it took us a very long time to be able to produce the book and we have the cover and the front pages designed by Harriet Korman who is an International artist and it was at the beginning of her career so she did those artworks for me. We have Fatma Lootah who is from the UAE and a number of her artworks are in the book as well for the first time, published and recorded. Calligraphy was done by a UAE artist Mohammad Mehendi, a very close friend as well. Most of these people are my colleagues and friends. It was a Labor of love in a way to produce this book.

8.Do you do something else for a living?

Yes I am a consultant in the area of the History and Arts, I am an expert in art so I do a lot of arts collections, even private art collections. I am an interior designer so I have my own Interior design firm in my name and I do lectures on the subject.