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2023, The Year That Was: Shafeena Yusuf Ali, Founder And Executive Director, Rizq Art Initiative With Ali acting as its Executive Director, Rizq, located in Abu Dhabi's Al Reem Island, has been billed as an "independent, forward-thinking, and inclusive" artistic space that will focus on championing art and artists from the Global South.

By Aby Sam Thomas Edited by Tamara Pupic

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Rizq Art Initiative
Shafeena Yusuf Ali, founder and Executive Director, Rizq Art Initiative

When Rizq Art Initiative launched in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in November this year, it was described as a culmination of Shafeena Yusuff Ali's lifelong vision to champion the arts, and that would explain the passion with which this acclaimed businesswoman speaks about her latest endeavor.

But before we get to Rizq, here's an introduction to Ali for those of you who may not be familiar with her. For starters, she was essentially born into the world of business as the daughter of Yusuff Ali M.A., the Indian billionaire who's the Chairman of the UAE-headquartered Lulu International Group. Indeed, she has gone on to prove that she's a chip off the old block in her roles as the CEO of the Abu Dhabi-based Tablez Food Company (and Chairperson of its sister concern, Tablez India), as well as the Director of Twenty14 Holdings, also based out of the UAE capital.

In addition, she, along with her husband Adeeb Ahamed, co-founded the Adeeb and Shafeena Action Research Foundation, where she, as the non-profit's Director, champions improvements in education, health, childcare, and community development across India. Ali is also known to be an avid art collector and historian, and it is her knowledge and experience in this particular domain that led her to now launch Rizq.

George Martin's An Acceptable Time (2023) on display at Rizq Art Initiative. Source: Rizq Art Initiative

With Ali acting as its Executive Director, Rizq, located in Abu Dhabi's Al Reem Island, has been billed as an "independent, forward-thinking, and inclusive" artistic space that will focus on championing art and artists from the Global South. For its inaugural exhibition, Dusky Path of a Dream: Notes from Abstracting the Real, 27 Indian artists have presented over 60 artworks that examine the role memory and identity play in connecting the past and the future.

"The richness of art from the Global South deserves a global stage, and Rizq is committed to providing just that in the heart of Abu Dhabi," a statement quoted Ali as saying. "Our vision is to weave these diverse artistic threads into the cultural fabric of the UAE, enriching it with new textures and colors. Rizq is more than an art initiative; it's a bridge connecting Abu Dhabi to the vast, vibrant world of global artistry."

Ali's glee at the launch of Rizq is unmistakable, and the fact that it is all happening out of Abu Dhabi -the place she was born and raised- only adds to her sense of achievement. "The journey of Rizq began with a spark of an idea, and it's incredible to see how it has grown and become more tangible throughout 2023," Ali says. "The concept started to take shape, and I vividly remember discussing it with people who shared my passion for Rizq when it was still in its infancy. Opening day was truly a surreal experience. Many individuals who had been a part of the discussions during the conceptual phase came up to me to express their congratulations. It was a moment of validation for the hard work, dedication, and collective effort that went into making Rizq a reality. The journey was filled with both challenges and victories, big and small. Every obstacle and setback became a stepping stone toward the realization of Rizq. We encountered moments of uncertainty and faced significant losses, but it was through overcoming these challenges that we grew stronger and more resilient as a team."

Source: Rizq Art Initiative

Related: 2023, The Year That Was: Quddus Pativada, Founder And CEO, ASI

Now, while the current exhibition at Rizq is set to run until February next year, Ali reveals that work is already underway for its shows in the future. "Exhibitions-wise, we have our next two years planned, and we have already started working on our second show planned for February 2024," Ali says. "Listening for Traces, an experimental sonic exhibition curated by Cathy Lane and Meena Vari, tunes into the echoes of history as we explore the enduring impact of war and peace. Our third show, Windings of the Labyrinth, also curated by Vari, is a landscape show featuring three female landscape artists."

But 2024 won't be just about the shows that Rizq will be presenting- Ali reveals that one can expect more from this space in the new year. "In September 2024, Rizq will launch a second phase of the build, adding studios to the gallery space," she shares. "Here, we hope to provide a place where artists can experiment, explore, and develop their ideas and techniques. The studio space is where artists can engage in the creative process and making without interruption, allowing them to focus on their work, and explore their ideas in depth."

Ali is clearly eager about having Rizq contribute to the burgeoning art landscape of the UAE, and she, along with her team, are ready to put in the work to help it continue on a path of growth. "The journey continues, and we're excited about what the future holds for Rizq," Ali says. "Our team is focused on maintaining the momentum, and driving forward with the same passion, that has fueled our journey thus far."

Shafeena Yusuf Ali (centre) with the artists who have exhibited their work at,Rizq Art Initiative Source: Rizq Art Initiative

Reflections 2023: Shafeena Yusuf Ali shares her key insights from the year that was

Adaptability is a crucial skill in business "The art world is dynamic and constantly evolving, and this year has reinforced the importance of being flexible in the face of unexpected challenges. Whether it's navigating changes in the market, embracing new technologies, or adjusting strategies, the ability to adapt is indispensable."

The connections you make matter "Building and nurturing strong relationships have been instrumental in our success. Collaborating with artists, collectors, and fellow professionals has not only enriched our gallery's network, but it has also opened doors to new opportunities. Cultivating meaningful connections fosters a supportive community that can weather the storms -and celebrate the successes- together."

Authenticity enhances your credibility "In an industry built on trust and subjective value, being transparent in business practices and authentic in the curation of our gallery's identity has built credibility. People appreciate openness, and it fosters a sense of trust that is vital in the art community."

Do what you love, love what you do "A passion for the arts, and a genuine belief in the value of the work we showcase, are the driving forces behind everything we do. This year has reinforced that success is not just about financial gains, but also about contributing to the cultural landscape, and supporting artists whose visions resonate with our mission."

Related: Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2023: Neha Anand, Founder And Managing Director Of Three Layer Hospitality

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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