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Fulbright Researcher recounts her journey from AUS to starting the first online portal for Khaleeji artists
Suzy Sikorski first came to American University of Sharjah (AUS) as an exchange student, only to return two years later under a Fulbright US Student Scholarship. She is currently working on creating Mid East Art (mideastart.com), one of the first online art platforms that will feature exclusive studio interviews with Emirati and other artists originating from the Arabian Gulf. She is also busy assisting Nasser Abdullah, the Chairman and Curator of the 35th Annual Emirates Fine Art Society (EFAS) exhibition, with the event which will be held at the Sharjah Art Museum.
During her time as an exchange student at AUS in 2014, Sikorski had the opportunity to immerse herself in the UAE art scene. "At AUS, I took my first art history course taught by then founding dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD), Dr. Martin Giesen, as well as a painting course with Professor David Hewitt."
It was in Professor Hewitt's painting class that Sikorski connected with Tamer Khalil, the first artist she met from Saudi Arabia, during his fourth year in the CAAD program. "Tamer was painting a portrait in the back of the classroom, and that first meeting turned into hours of conversations with him. This is what gave me an early appreciation for interviewing artists about their challenges and upbringings. This friendship impacted me so much I then wrote about this as part of my Fulbright Scholarship application creative essay," said Sikorski.
"My advisor Dr. Martin Giesen in CAAD has connected me with so many faculty in the school, and these colleagues have opened doors for me to connect with artists, faculty from other universities and curators in the region," said Sikorski. "Also, as I connect with artists and curators at events in the UAE, I have noticed the high number of CAAD graduates along the way, such as Nasser Alzayani, Saif Mhaisen, Hatem Hatem, Mays Al Beik and Talin Hazbar. We immediately had a connection, as we discussed our experience studying with similar professors and their trajectory since they graduated. I have noticed the number of CAAD graduates who ultimately start producing artwork, and it is wonderful to hear how they have applied their architectural background within their works."
Through mutual friends, Sikorski then connected with Abdulnasser Gharem, one of the most famous Saudi Arabian artists. She had the chance to speak with him about his experience of becoming an artist, and connected it to her early experience with Tamer. It was Gharem who encouraged her to meet with more artists, specifically older ones like Abdul Qader Al Rais, and younger artists such as Mohamed Kazem and Ebtisam Abdulaziz. Speaking with these artists, and after attending a lecture on the Fulbright Scholarship, Sikorski realized her passion for interviewing these artists could make her a good candidate.
After spending her year abroad at AUS, Sikorski went on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, but she continued to travel back to the UAE mainly by assisting galleries at fairs and continuing to publish on her Instagram page, (@mideastart) to document her travels and artwork descriptions.
"It was when I returned to NYC to complete my senior year at Fordham University that I began focusing specifically on the UAE art history," said Sikorski. "It was in May 2015 that Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi curated the UAE Pavilion '1980-Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates' at the Venice Biennale, where she showcased pioneer Emirati artists, contextualizing this within UAE art history. I was also introduced to the 2013 exhibition at Sotheby's, London, and 'Three Generations' catalogue by Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, which further supported my realization of the difference between the three generations of Emirati artists-whether in education background or historical narratives."
The Fulbright Application she completed in Fall 2016 turned into a yearlong research for her thesis where Sikorski mapped out UAE's art history from the 1970s and focused on three generations of Emirati artists, while focusing on one artist who flourished within each decade in their practice. Two days before submitting her thesis in May 2016, Sikorski was notified of her becoming a Fulbright scholar.
Since her return to the UAE last October, Sikorski has been involved with 35th Annual Emirates Fine Art Society (EFAS) exhibition. This will be an archival show documenting the history of the society, as told by video recordings, and preserved magazines and exhibition catalogues. A major part of this exhibition is a university project where Sikorski is lecturing with Abdullah at four universities: AUD, NYUAD, University of Sharjah and Zayed University as well as selecting 50 university students and recent alum to participate and work with older Emirati and long-time UAE based artists through workshops, discussions at the society and the universities.