By Denise Marray
GT London Correspondent

Enterprising Qatari designer, Amal al-Hajri, showed her ‘Hope’ collection of finely crafted leather handbags at the Almas Jewellery Show & Konooz Fine Art Auction and Exhibition in London last  weekend.
The event, held under the patronage of Sheikha Alyazia bint Nayhan al-Nayhan at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, was organised by  UAE businesswoman Zainab al-Farhan al-Imam. Al-Imam, owner of A&Z Traders, is the founder and director of Women’s Growth and Success Foundation; she is passionate about helping women to achieve their business goals. She was behind the successful Ziryab Fashion Show staged in London earlier this year which featured the collections of Middle East designers.
Gulf Times spoke to designer al-Hajri about her business vision. She explained that for her it is important to participate in international exhibitions. “I want to progress step by step; my Qatari brand is just 18 months old and is getting a good reaction. I am keen to expand,” she said.
The event was an imaginative mix of art, charity and enterprise. Fifty paintings curated by the well-known artist Ihasan al-Khateeb, founder and director of Inter.Craft Gallery in the UAE, were auctioned with several of the paintings being sold for charity. The charities were the Iraqi Women’s Association Funds, World Wide Welfare, the AMAR Foundation, Syria Relief, International Action for Iraqi Refugees, and Vital Voices.
Al-Khateeb, who has nurtured artists in the UAE over several generations, personally gifted three of his paintings to charitable causes.
Al-Khateeb is highly regarded as both artist and teacher. Originally from Iraq, he went to the UAE in 1975. He has worked in art and art education for over forty years and his father was also an artist in Iraq.
Asked how he set about choosing the art for the exhibition, he said he was looking for authentic voices; talented people who could convey their unique vision through the canvas. He encouraged young artists to be true to themselves.
“I chose artists who are painting for themselves,” he said.
Al-Imam, who operates between the UK and UAE, said the artists were enthusiastic about participating in the auction and having their works viewed in London. She is keen to promote the up and coming artists and is introducing them to galleries, art collectors and the international media.
Speaking about the charitable dimension she said: “We are going through very difficult times and the artists have been generous in donating their works.
“When I came to London I found out that we need to make ourselves better known and to be represented at events. We deserve to be known.”
The Consul General of Palestine in Milan, Hani Gaber, said the event helped to raise awareness of the hardship experienced by so many people across the region. He made a special point of saying that he greatly valued the help given by Qatar to the people of Palestine.
“I would like to thank Qatar and the other Gulf countries because they have greatly helped Palestine and our people under occupation with both money and political support,” he said.
Auctioneers from Christie’s handled the sales; the auction was unusual in giving a prominent platform to the charities. Representatives of each charity gave short speeches about their work immediately prior to the donated artworks going under the hammer. The art was a mix of work by established artists and up and coming talent from across the Middle East region. For Suhaila al-Najdi, a talented Kuwaiti artist, the trauma being experienced by so many people through war and displacement has turned her paintings from vivid colours to sombre black and grey. She feels especially the suffering of women who she sees struggling just to survive from day to day with no joy or comfort in their lives.
Maha Sharif Shakarchi, Chair and Trustee of the UK registered International Action for Iraqi Refugees, spoke about the plight of Iraqi refugees and the efforts to provide support.
It is estimated that there are some five million displaced people scattered all over the world.  
“We deal with people who are in desperate need of help – those without money. We especially help women and orphans. We are currently trying to find channels to work with the UK government to help the new wave of refugees. Many of the half million Iraqis in the UK are well off and we want to share the responsibility with the UK government and help our people,” she said.
Vital Voices Sagra Maceira de Rosen, Board of Trustees, Vital Voices Europe, spoke about the work of the organisation which was founded 20 years ago by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton to support women leaders around the world.  
The UK based Syria Relief Charity, which is one of the few charities that operates within Syria, said it was a great opportunity to spread the word about the charities through such a well-attended and high profile art event.  It has prosthetic limb clinics and rehab centres for women who have been raped. It also has mental health clinics which help to deal with the trauma that is experienced by many caught up in the violence, including a high proportion of young children.
Former Lady Mayoress of London, Fiona Savory, said she was impressed with the entrepreneurial drive of many women across the Middle East who have long been successful ‘behind the scenes’ drivers of business and are increasingly taking a more public role in their enterprises.
Fatthia Ansah Plange, Director, Baidans Property Services, said she was happy to support the event as it was a good international platform to showcase the talent from the Middle East region and to help charitable causes.

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