Next Dubai speaker

Jaber Alhaddad on finding the missing link between art and history in your life

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February 20, 8:30am • NEST co-working space • part of a series on Symmetry

We are really excited to have Lucy Bradley joining us on the 16th.  

January’s theme is SURREAL

When you look at the artwork of Frida Kahlo or Salvador Dalí,

there’s an element of surprise. Why does it feel familiar yet also


Surrealists sought to break free from the shackles of the rational

mind and dive into the deep end of the unconscious. The

canvas, then, became a mirror for what emerged out of that

process. This movement was inspired by events in the 1920s on

the heels of the first world war and continues to influence

artists, writers, photographers, and filmmakers. This cultural and

artistic movement ushered in new techniques that helped

humans expand their minds.

Today, we recognize a sense of the surreal in unexpected

moments in daily life. Art exhibits like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity

Room are becoming readily available, encouraging people to

immerse themselves in experiences that break reality. A ballet

performance or a silent meditation retreat can be a dreamlike


Whether we experience a surreal moment or dabble in

processes like drawing without thinking or writing without

self-editing, there’s something to be learned about ourselves

and what lingers under the hood of our desires to keep life

orderly and controlled.

Happy New Year! Our Brussels chapter chose this month’s

exploration of Surreal and Charlotte Dumortier illustrated the

theme. SURREAL is presented globally this month by .

What a morning!  Helen Sell took us on a trip through her 18+ years in Dubai and her creative journey. 

Things are never as they seem was a big reminder from Helen.

When the going gets rough go sailing and see what you can figure out, literally.

Friends are interesting and you never know how they are going to help or hinder your progress.

In the end what we learned from Helen is that her career has been a series of life restarts and without them she never would have gotten to where she is today BUT the path is never clear looking forward.

And there is James getting ready to launch the 41st CM in Dubai.

Michael Ogden the person behind the 360 videos at CM_Dubai.

Helen telling us her story.

By Shivani Mathur

Honesty. It means very different things to different people, especially in this post-truth era. Honesty. Honesty of what? Honesty of Character? Honesty of Craft? Honesty of Intention?

Honesty has been a virtue consistently made synonymous to righteousness and integrity, but what’s interesting to note is that over the years, the degrees of honesty that people openly follow, the amount of levy that we give to half-truths, the fine print, and marginal deceit; only seems to be shooting up. This isn’t necessarily in the worst of connotations: while a lot of debate about honesty (or rather, lack thereof) in public discourse is to do with politicians, world leaders, corruption and unaccountability; a lot of exaggeration and half—truths have become prominent in the light of advertising and branding. The kicker? This lack of full disclosure and complete honesty is often already known to consumers and people, and heavily normalised. The paramount element of stellar campaigns, the yardstick that separates impactful advertisements from those that aren’t, is innovation. And to make things look innovative, often times we see that saleability and usefulness of things are amplified through theatrical antics, gimmicks, and exaggerated claims. How honest this is, how ethical this is, is an open-ended question without a black and white answer, but to see Mohammed Saeed Harib’s perception of Honesty, tune into Creative Mornings this October, Wednesday the 17th at 8:30am.

Mohammed Saeed Harib

Best known as the man behind the animated TV series FREEJ, Mohammed Saeed Harib is the Chairman of Lammtara Art Production and the talented creator of stage shows, feature films and gaming apps.

Mohammed’s journey from an arts student to a pioneer for Emirati animation started in 1998 at the Northeastern University in Boston, where he studied General Arts and Animation. Mohammed first had the idea for FREEJ while at university but it took nearly ten years – and plenty of determination – for the show to come to fruition.

Shortly after founding Lammtara in 2005, Mohammed started production of FREEJ, a hugely popular 3D animated TV series that features caricatures of Emirati grandmothers. FREEJ was voted by Dubai One viewers as the number one TV show of 2006, 2007 and 2008, and the first season received the Special Country Award at the Hamburg Animation Awards in 2007. The fifth season was aired in 2013.

In 2009, building on his success with FREEJ, Mohammed directed the largest Arabic theatrical production in the Middle East, FREEJ Folklore. This unique stage show, which celebrates UAE heritage and culture, was staged at the Madinat Jumeirah Arena in both English and Arabic. It created the illusion of holographic animated FREEJ characters interacting with real life performers, and was accompanied by performances from the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Back at the drawing board, Mohammed created and directed an Emirati cartoon series and a gaming app called Mandoos, which teaches children about UAE heritage and culture. He also produced 28 2D animated stories to feature in the Arabic speaking version of the TV series for kids, Sesame Street.

Mohammed’s talent has taken him overseas, and in 2015 he directed a chapter in Roger Allers’ animated Hollywood production of Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet. He worked alongside eight international directors, as well as Salma Hayek and Liam Neeson. Earlier, in 2013, Mohammed was a creative consultant for Kanye West’s art film Cruel Summer, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Staying closer to his Middle Eastern roots, Mohammed was the director of the UAE’s official 42nd National Day ceremony in Burj Park in 2013, and he is currently directing his first live action feature film with Abu Dhabi’s ImageNation. Further afield, he consulted on the official anthem for the Qatar Handball World Championship in 2015, and he is a Qatar World Cup 2022 ambassador for the Challenge 22 innovation award. Mohammed is currently working in partnership with the Qatar Foundation on three seasons of the animated Siraj series by the Qatar Foundation, which teaches Arabic to children.

Mohammed is recognised worldwide as a pioneer of creative talent in the UAE. In 2007, Mohammed received the Emerging UAE Talent Award at the Dubai International Film Festival, he won Young CEO of the Year in 2008 from CEO Middle East magazine, and he was recognised as one of the World’s Most Influential Arabs from 2008 to 2012 by Arabian Business magazine.

Another great talk, Jonathan joined us from the Gulf News Group and demonstrated how what may seem to be chaotic may actually be a very organised thing.

The house was full and we had a wonderful turnout from the American University of Dubai and Zayed University.

Want to have a listen to the presentation, click on the podcast.

The video is coming.

Here is a look at the event through the eyes of Muneem from

James walking us through the CM Manifesto.

A good morning starts with an icebreaker.

Smiles at 8:30 is always a good sign.

Engagement at 8:30 is always a good thing.

Jonathan the numbers man talking chaos.

James, Katia and Richard.

Here is a look at CreativeMornings Dubai in August!

Shivani Mathur had an aooportunity to have a conversation with Narmeen after her talk and here it is.

By Shivani Mathur

On Tuesday the 28th of August, we had Narmeen Naser from Dubai Jiggy: a platform for creatives boasting artists from over 72 nationalities, talking about Community. A community leader herself, she is someone that’s working tirelessly towards removing the stigma that Dubai isn’t culturally rich. Born and raised in Dubai herself, she’s always been artistically inclined herself, and loves creating a platform that helps showcase as well as connect artists to each other. I had the opportunity to interview her and get more insight into Dubai Jiggy and her own journey.

Shivani: You studied medicine and development. What’s your own story with art? How and when did you start becoming an artist?

Narmeen: I’m a very DIY kinda person, I taught myself how to sow, I love gardening, cooking, baking, I like creating things. I used to be like that since I was a kid, loved building things. I always wanted drawing and painting classes but I took up other co-curriculars like sports over art. When I went to university I wanted to study fine arts but because I was a good at science, my parents insisted on science saying that I need to build a science foundation now, I can always pursue art later on. I majored in science and minored in fine arts but it became too much to keep up with so I did one or two courses, loved it, but that was it. All my friends however are artists. I came back here and started working in the corporate world and during one summer, all my friends left Dubai. I was like a single professional out here even though I grew up here. I started pursuing all these things and going to jam jar – I never owned art supplies before and I just started buying canvases and just painting. I would go there 2 or 3 times a week and just loved it there, hated that they’d close at 10:00, I wanted to paint all night! It got expensive and eventually after 6-8 weeks of going to jam jar, I bought my own supplies and started teaching myself how to paint. I started art after I was already a working professional but I’ve loved art since I was a kid, I’ve visited museums in over 30 countries. It was never a top priority until that summer when I was all alone. 3 months into doing this, I put up my work for some art fairs and it actually started selling, it was the craziest thing and that was an incredibly encouraging factor – that people wanted to buy my work.

Shivani: Why the name Dubai Jiggy?

Narmeen: I had won a dance competition when I was 10 to gettin’ jiggy with it by Will Smith and it was my soundtrack to life. Since then I’ve been called every variation of ‘Jiggy’: Jiggu, Jigga, Jiggy; I used to play football in school and whether it was my name there, or my Instagram name, it was a name that really stuck. So, I called the platform Dubai Jiggy because of that, and I wanted people to understand that it would sort of bring the fun and art to you, make Dubai jiggy.

Shivani: How to steer people that have an inclination towards art to pursue art part-time, or full-time?

Narmeen: Artists are not easy to work with, as much as I love art, managing 500 artists can get difficult, they have their ego and I don’t want them to be too corporate but there’s no system of communication, it’s still new. Every artist that I speak to, there’s almost a new language that I have to learn. In terms of how I encourage them to pursue it as a livelihood, I just keep doing what I’m doing. I’m still building my foundation and that’s been hard enough. I can’t go to an artist and say, quit your job to do this because I myself can’t pay them or support them. I’m gonna keep doing my events and exhibitions and keep encouraging them to keep producing. I do follow up with artists who haven’t been producing art in a while and ask them why they stopped and encourage them to keep creating. I don’t see myself as a great artist but I do get to mentor a lot of young artists, young in the professional sense. It’s nice to be able to help new artists pave a journey.

Shivani: Is there ever a consistent theme that you’ve noticed that artists tend to lean towards?

Narmeen: Definitely. So, artists that are just starting out, they are (often) inspired by other artists who are prominent and sell a lot of work. They tend to follow more popular artists and over here, popular art includes horses and camels and Buddha and you see the typical ones everywhere – houses, restaurants; especially the young artists think that these are the ones that sell, and they definitely sell. I always try and tell people, if you try to go down that route as a young artist, you may lose your own path in the process and don’t find the ability to create your own voice because you become so busy creating what’s corporate and what sells. That’s what I try to do through my exhibitions, I’ll give them a theme or concept to think about and I won’t accept anything that doesn’t reflect that concept. I say ‘innovation and community’, even if they’ve chosen old artwork, they’ve got to find a way to reflect that. I ask them to think critically: whether it’s the artwork itself or the technique. Even when I used to do art myself I would look at the artists that I love and try to emulate the style. When you go the corporate route what you tend to do is lose your own voice and create only what people are buying, it’s just like creating mass produced goods, I don’t really think that that helps build the art community.

Shivani: As a catalyst in people finding people relevant to their art, what’s the most rewarding thing for you? There are many humanitarian causes and things that one can do even relating to art and community building but you chose something as unconventional as being a catalyst for artists to network and find each other. Where does this desire to help propel other artists’ dreams and creation come from?

Narmeen: That’s a really good question actually. For the longest time I thought it’d be cool to be an employee to someone, being a doctor, or working in a lab, working for someone. The whole idea of me being this sort of bridge for others and not having to work for someone else is an idea still new to me. It does make me different from my environment. Both my parents’ side of the family have a lot of humanatirans within them. My grandmother for example has built a lot of free orphanages, universities, schools and hospitals. I grew up knowing that my grandmother gave away everything that she earned to help the underserved. A lot of people in my family are teachers, it’s a giving society. The whole connecting and blogging and sharing resources thing is new, my own family asks me why I do it and the reason is simple – I like learning and sharing knowledge. I myself am quite in tune with what’s new happening culturally and I feel like as someone who has this insight into this world, I should give this information to the world. I myself have learnt so much form free resources online, it’s all about being part of this resource sharing economy.

Shivani: If two artists got connected and created something massive beautiful, it isn’t often traceable to you, not as much say, the achievements of a student that you teach an NGO. So what’s the reward system for you then doing so unconventional?

For me, the pride really isn’t in the recognition, it’s in knowing that I have taken someone one step further in achieving what they want or didn’t even know they could achieve. Connecting artists who didn’t think they could achieve much, to change makers that can; that knowledge makes me happy, that I helped create that impact, I don’t really need recognition for that. Most of the artists that I work with are way better artists than me since they keep practicing and I see that the opportunities that I provide them with help them win international competitions, being awarded even though they started just 2 years ago. They do often come back to me and say “this happened because you encouraged us, you were the first one to exhibit our work”. A lot of the artists you see, their work is being exhibited for the first time despite it being so beautiful since they normally can’t pay the fees required to have galleries and exhibitions showcase their work. Knowing that I’m helping build an art community, creating connections, and knowing that people who want to buy art can now source it locally is my reward system.

Shivani: I’m sure there are many challenges that you face as a community leader but what are some of the most prominent ones, ones that you’ve always faced and continue to face?

Narmeen: I’m the kind of person who always put 200%, whatever it may be. And because I’m an emotional person, it really hurts when people are all about constantly taking and not giving back. I love the artist community but every now and then you’ll encounter people who just intend to use you, they won’t support you but want your services. I’m trying to democratize the art here. Most art galleries and fairs will charge artists to showcase their art but I don’t. Events and exhibitions usually take about 6 weeks to plan and if at the end nothing sells, that’s very difficult, especially given that I’ve charged artists nothing. I’m doing this full time and there’s always this thought, “Should I just go corporate? This is what I love doing but no one here seems to appreciate me”. That’s definitely a challenge.

Another challenge is that sometimes because I’ve built relationships with my artists often I can’t be very professional. We have WhatsApp conversations and become friendly. That’s the downside of becoming a community, you become like family and because you become like family you tend to lose out on professionalism. I’ll have an exhibition and say, “the last deadline is 2 weeks prior” and I have artists messaging me 2 days prior asking if they can take part and because I’ve become friends with them, it’s so hard to say no. I have started to be and am trying to be sterner with restriction and only accept genuine excuses. Every new exhibition I get like 50 new artists and like to give opportunities to new artists and therefore have started not giving in to requests by artists who were simply lazy and didn’t respect deadlines – since that wouldn’t be fair to other artists.

Shivani: With such a large community of people to lead, doesn’t scheduling and meet-ups become a major concern? How do you deal with it when artists don’t show up to meetings or not come through with deadlines?

Narmeen: Honestly, now that my community has over 500 members, if they miss out they miss out I won’t follow up with them. But initially when I had started, I’d send at least 7 follow-up emails to them, both artists and change makers. They’d have to fill out questionnaires and it was difficult to get them to do that. With change makers for them to take time, I understand, they’re change making. But it would take a long time and after they’d respond I’d connect them to artists who would take ages to respond, sometimes just disappear… only to say 3 months later that they’re ‘just not inspired by the project’. We didn’t have a website then and manually following up and connecting with these artists. Artists who have worked professionally, in the corporate sector are much better that way. A large part of my community are older women who have never worked before and students.

The good thing was that the artists, we didn’t have any kind of track record to say that we’re gonna sell art for you or that we’re super established.  But the fact that there were artists who were putting in time to put in time and effort into an impact project when they could have been creating work that would definitely sell, that was definitely amazing. If someone randomly comes up to me as says “I want to commission this to you” I’d say you have to pay me initially. We were commissioning all this curated artwork and the fact that even some really prominent artists did it for us as well was amazing, it was time spent away from artwork that they could really sell. That was a really great part about working with artists with great integrity and vision and want to do something that’s greater than them.

Shivani: Has Dubai and UAE: the people, the community, the enterprises the government sector: the local network greatly helped Dubai Jiggy?

Narmeen: If I tried to do what I’m doing here in a place like say, Canada or Australia and I say these two because they’re the places that I’ve lived in; it wouldn’t work so well because they’re older nations with more established art networks and just getting your foot in the door to help artists connect with one another would be a struggle. All my artist friends based in Canada don’t even paint anymore, they’re all in corporate jobs. They didn’t have sufficient art related opportunities because it’s an already saturated market. For me who has studied medicine and not arts is so involved with the fine arts here, I credit that to the UAE because you can shape and grow things. There’s a sense of collaboration here especially since artists are coming from so many backgrounds, there’s a willingness to make things work here.

We have our 1st CreativeMornings Dubai podcast to share, Narmeen’s talk.

Next week we are back with CHAOS on September 19th!