So, we just returned from the United Arab Emirates where I was invited, via a grant through the American Embassy, to come participate in Ras Al Khaimah Fine Art Festival and do some youth art outreach programs. The trip was an unbelievable unique opportunity to create art abroad and engage with a new (to me) culture. Al Qasimi Foundation, who were in charge of organizing the festival and the programs, hosted us in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and treated us so well that I thought I may have entered an Arabian fairytale for a week. Now that I am home and going though all of my photos and memories, I will be posting a few stories here. For the time being, here is my program page from the festival (hey, I was just fascinated to see my artist profile in Arabic – my first!).
And here a press release, kindly written by Al Qasimi Foundation after my visit, describing what art shenanigans I ended up getting into while in UAE:
(Full text here in case of future link failure):
March 04, 2015
Destination Painter Leaves Mark on Ras Al Khaimah
Al Qasimi Foundation
In the international art world, Anastasia Mak is known for her expressionist paintings of some of the world’s most notable destinations, including Rome, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Istanbul. Thanks to a collaboration between the Al Qasimi Foundation and the U.S. Mission in the United Arab Emirates, Ms. Mak can now add a painting of Ras Al Khaimah to her portfolio after spending a week promoting arts and culture throughout the emirate and neighboring Fujairah.
“My art is influenced by my explorations of unfamiliar places, so I was thrilled to be invited to the northern emirates. After only a few days in this community, I can see why people visit Ras Al Khaimah and end up staying for years,” says Ms. Mak.
Ms. Mak was a featured guest artist for the 2015 Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival and also spent several days participating in outreach programs at local schools. Her visit embodied the Al Qasimi Foundation’s mission to support the social and cultural development of the emirate. It also highlighted the important role artistic expression plays in community development by bringing people from diverse cultural backgrounds together.
“Ras Al Khaimah is home to people from all over the globe and continues to be a center of Emirati heritage. The Al Qasimi Foundation wanted to host someone who could appreciate and represent our emirate through her art,” says Mr. Suqrat bin Bisher, Events Manager at the Foundation. “Anastasia’s unique background makes her a great ambassador for cultural exchange and artistic appreciation.”
A native of Ukraine, Anastasia Mak moved to the United States as an exchange student at the age of 14. She has traveled throughout the States and abroad, striving to expand her knowledge of different places and build on her appreciation of the world’s diversity. It was this spirit of adventure and curiosity that led Ms. Mak to jump on the opportunity to experience Ras Al Khaimah.
Ms. Mak began her time in the UAE at the weekend-long Fine Arts Festival where she had the chance to encourage and network with local and international artists. She also found time to explore the historic village of Al Jazeera Al Hamra, which she channeled into one of her distinctive destination paintings. In her signature geometric style, she brought an abandoned guard tower and one of the oldest mosques in the emirate to life in front of guests at the festival’s visual arts exhibition, which was held at the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum.
Ms. Mak’s success as a professional artist offered tangible inspiration to individuals in Ras Al Khaimah who sometimes struggle to find outlets for their creative interests.
“Ras Al Khaimah is growing as a hub of cultural activity and arts, and that is important to the community,” comments Ms. Jenny Reeves Manley, who brought her children and parents to the art exhibition. “I think it’s important for artists to know each other and to showcase their art so that they have something to be proud of.”
Ms. Mak did not only focus on the artistic crowd, however. Her time in the UAE included delivering messages of encouragement and a drawing lesson to undergraduates at the Higher Colleges of Technology Women’s Campus in Fujairah.
She also spent time cultivating technical skills and confidence among students who are part of the Foundation’s Hands on Learning (HOL) program, which works to engage local secondary students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
Visiting two Ras Al Khaimah boys’ schools, Ms. Mak worked alongside students as they constructed murals on their campuses. As students painted mosques, mountains, and palm trees, they learned first hand of the technical demands of art and experienced the planning and patience often required by creative endeavors.
Opportunities to work with professional craftsmen like Ms. Mak have been uncommon for most of these students, and Mr. Caleb Wilson, the Foundation associate heading up the HOL program, appreciated the chance for his students to build self-discipline and self-confidence.
“Anastasia was wonderful to work with. It was great seeing her teach our students how to add dimension to paintings through their brush strokes, to mix colors, and to work thoughtfully. I hope that she is able to visit again and collaborate on another project for HOL in the future,” says Mr. Wilson.
In addition to contributing to these murals, Ms. Mak donated three of her pieces, including portraits of Chicago, Istanbul, and Al Jazeera Al Hamra, to the Ras Al Khaimah community.
According to Ms. Mak, she came to the northern emirates as a representative of the artistic community and will leave as an admirer of Ras Al Khaimah and its people. For Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation, the feeling is mutual.
“Anastasia was an inspiration to our students, the artistic community in Ras Al Khaimah, and everyone at the Al Qasimi Foundation. Spending time with her and the other talented artists from Ras Al Khaimah and the broader region reminds us that life without art is no life at all: it really brings the community together.”