A non-profit, UK registered initiative advancing the preservation of cultural heritage through the collection, documentation and digital archiving of Arab historical attire and their stories. Our goal is to empower and sustain global cross cultural dialogue to inspire creative minds.
The Zay Initiative was founded by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, a published author with over 40 years of experience in art and cultural heritage.
Dr. El Mutwalli has invested in a collection of historic dress over the course of the past decades. The core of the collection is based on UAE traditional dress, in addition to key examples from Yemen, Morocco, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and others.
The collection includes examples acquired from the simplest rural families to the ruling families of the region. While the majority of the objects focus on critical dress samples from the neighbouring region we will acquire additional acquisitions in time and engage with and promote existing collections to encourage collaboration and knowledge exchange.
The Zay Initiative aims to promote an understanding of the evolution of regional culture, building up public awareness and appreciation of this unique heritage, reaching out to like-minded individuals and institutions nationally, regionally and globally.
In addition to seasonal or touring exhibitions and museum loans, the collection is accessed through the digital archive (Collection), first of its kind on a regional level. fortified by a pop-up glossary in both Arabic and English.
The Zay Initiative aims to empower women regionally and globally by bringing their untold stories to life. In addition to its online scholarship programme to sustain the past and inspire the future.
Our goals and objectives
The Five Pillars of the Zay Initiative are:
• Collect, document and conserve Arab dress and adornment.
• Present and contextualise through a digital archive and blog.
• Encourage intercultural dialogue to highlight our shared humanity.
• Inspire and educate designers to create for a sustainable future.
• Empower women regionally and globally by bringing their untold stories to life.
A short introductory video
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Long introductory video
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Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli
Art and design are the foundation of Reem’s world….
From early childhood, she was raised on the appreciation of beauty which continued to feed her soul. The results are shown through her wonderful collection of rare art, handmade carpets, antiques, and in her professional work documenting important art collections. She started her professional journey studying interior design, as well as Islamic architecture, art and archaeology.
Her career started with the inauguration of the Cultural Foundation, a memorable place to the people of Abu Dhabi. She joined the Foundation when it was being prepared as the national library. She began work on the interior design of the building under the supervision of the renowned British librarian G. Thompson. After she created the first art exhibition there, she and the Cultural Foundation moved into a new era. She became increasingly involved in organising major art exhibitions and cultural programs and the people of Abu Dhabi joined in this cultural renaissance.
These early links with art have become her obsession and an inseparable part of her endeavour to be creative and unique, as she remains rooted in her scholarly research and nourished by her dreams.
Dr. Nadia Diab, Trustee
Dr. Nadia grew up in a suburb of Boston, USA, born to proud Iraqi parents and surrounded by Arabic works of art in her home, by artists such as Fayiq Hassan and the sculptor Mohamed Ghani Hikmat.
After obtaining a degree at university she became a paediatric dentist and now treats children in a large group practice. She is married with a family of her own.
Upon her discovery of the Zay Initiative she felt the project gave a home to her passion for Middle Eastern art and history and is thrilled, excited and thankful to be involved.
Mae Noaf Al Kalamchi, Trustee
Mae Noaf is Kansas born, Abu Dhabi raised and of Iraqi origin.
A walking talking contradiction, Mae Noaf has always yearned to explore the world around her whilst maintaining her heritage where necessary.
She is a graduate of Boston University with a degree in International Relations focusing on cultural anthropology and regional politics and currently works towards integrating Sustainability at Expo 2020 Dubai.
She is really into sarcasm, good music and her beautiful strong mama.
Emma Farmer, Chief Operation Officer
Raised in the Middle East, educated in the UK, Emma has a profound understanding and passion for bridging gaps regarding culture and business, whilst navigating geo-political environments.
Emma is a highly motivated, award winning, experienced project leader, communications and business development professional with over 15 years’ experience.
As the Festival Director of Dubai Lynx from 2011 to 2016, she strategically grew the event and left a legacy, building the foundations that sees the festival thrive across multiple markets today. Now an entrepreneur and mother, Emma set up ‘Chameleon’, helping businesses reach their potential whilst ensuring they do better for good.
Catherine Bibby Marketing & Events Manager
Catherine (Cat) Bibby has recently joined The Zay Initiative team as Events and Marketing Manager, bringing with her over 10 years of experience managing and coordinating projects and events in both the corporate and art worlds. Having worked in project teams in the cultural and museum industry for a museum consultancy Cultural Innovations, and in the collections department at the V&A museum in London, Cat also shares our passion of art and collections. Cat helped to organise and promote the British Antiques Dealers’ Association annual Art Fair In London which was an internationally renowned project, and many other engaging and successful events. Cat is also a certified virtual events planner, and has more recently managed a number of online webinars.
Ansie van der Walt, Content Manager
Ansie is a South African-Australian textile writer based in Dubai. She specialises in writing about cultural textiles and textiles in fine art with a focus on Africa and the Middle East.
She regularly contributes to a range of textile and needlecraft publications including Inspirations Magazine, Garland Magazine, and Textile Fibre Forum Magazine. On her own online platform, The Fabric Thread, she focuses on cultural textiles in the context of travel, books, and art.
She follows the threads and finds the stories, using it to spin new yarns and weaving new fabrics – of people, places, and cultures. Her motto is Talking Textiles, Crafting Community, Stitching Stories.
Laetitia Tregoning, PR Advisor
Laetitia is the founder of STORY PR, a Dubai-based public relations agency, brings 15+ years of PR and Marketing experience, with 10 of those years in the UAE. She works with extraordinary individuals, entrepreneurs and cultural entities and has developed excellent relations with B2B and B2C media. Laetitia focuses on profiling business owners and leaders, and their businesses and within her client portfolio are well-known industry leaders and influencers. Strategic partnerships across clients are a key and valuable component of STORY’s offering.
Through media relations, partnerships, panels, award ceremonies and more, she has curated the profiles and reputations of business owners and businesses alike, whatever their objectives: selling a company, thought leadership, attracting investors, showcasing the name behind the business, or simply presenting the business.
Raeda Daboul, Journalist and Writer
Raeda has over 27 years of writing experience, starting with Gulf Media while still a student at Damascus University. In 1995, after graduation with a Bachelor degree in journalism and media, she moved to the UAE. Writing about culture and arts, she specialised in Emirati and Gulf cultural, historical and social life, working with various government, semi-state and non-profit newspapers and magazines. Her love of the Arabic language led her to become deeply involved in books; writing, revising and proofreading. Raeda also worked as a media coordinator for many media programmes and activities. After 22 years in the UAE she recently moved to a new life in Vancouver, Canada.
Cristeta Ardenio, Executive Secretary
Originally from the Philippines, Cristeta has lived in the Middle East since she was 16 years old. She has been a dedicated and highly effective employee of Dr. Reem El Mutwalli since 2000, working in client facing roles. Through this she has developed a unique perspective and profound knowledge of Arab culture, fashion and design.
Cristeta says. “I truly believe that hardwork and talent will get you anywhere you want to be. It’s not about how knowledgeable you are in an industry but on how skillful you are and how hard you want to excel in it.”
Jackie Barber, Researcher
Jackie has a Masters of Arts in South Asian Literature and Sanskrit Translation and a second Masters in Library and Information Science. She has worked in a variety of Library settings, including Museums, Rare Book Libraries, and as the Director of a small Public Library. To fulfill a lifelong dream, Jackie moved to Cairo in 2013 to study Arabic and work as the Head Librarian in an International School. She travelled extensively through Egypt during her 6 years there. Her favourite places included Siwa and the Sinai, as Jackie has always been interested in Nomadic culture, especially Amazigh and Bedouin adornment.
Jackie now lives in a small town in the mountains of Canada. She enjoys snowboarding and hiking in her spare time, but misses the arts and handicrafts of the Arab world. She is excited to help out with the Zay Initiative and put her education, experience, and interests to use!
Astria Suparak , Artist in Residence
Astria Suparak’s cross-disciplinary creative practices often address urgent political issues and have been widely acclaimed for high level concepts made accessible through a popular culture lens. Her projects have included room-sized installations, a video essay, and publicly accessible databases of misunderstood and overlooked histories, such as: typography of Asian tropes used in American science fiction cinema; a series of projects and events at the intersection of sports, politics, and art; and oral history and mapping of the global impact of the punk feminist movement Riot Grrrl.
She has curated exhibitions, screenings, discussions, and other live events for arts institutions and festivals across ten countries, including The Liverpool Biennial, Museo Rufino Tamayo, MoMA PS1, The Kitchen, and Expo Chicago, as well as for unconventional spaces such as roller-skating rinks, ferry boats, sports bars, and rock clubs.