Welcome to the Emirates Woman weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible entrepreneurs and businesswomen both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
This week we chat with Malak Abu-Qaoud, Arts & Events Manager at ICD Brookfield Place in DIFC. Malak’s fresh and innovative perspective has allowed her to curate exhibitions featuring renowned artists, transforming ICD Brookfield Place into a platform that captivates audiences and pushes boundaries.
Under Malak’s lead, ICD Brookfield Place hosted Prada Mode in collaboration with renowned English artist Damien Hirst. This travelling social club provides members with a unique art experience, combined with music, dining, and conversation.
Known for her keen eye and constant innovation in the space, Emirates Woman spoke to her to see her journey as an events curator and how it has evolved with time.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Art was my favorite followed by theater and English literature.
What was your first job?
When I was 9, I was hired by a tech-education platform that taught children school subjects in an interative manner using cartoon characters. I used to narrate some of these characters and at one point I had the opportunity to present the company to Bill Gates. In college, I took on part-time jobs in retail. This helped me build my communication skills and understand how to interact with people from different walks of life.
What brought you to Dubai?
My sister moved here a few years before I did, after visiting her I made the decision to move a few months later to be closer to my family. I was living in Montreal prior to Dubai, so I didn’t get to see them as often as I do now.
What inspired you to enter the arts space and talk us through your role as Arts & Events Manager for ICD Brookfield Place?
Growing up, I was always inspired by my sisters. They studied Fine Art, and I knew I wanted to end up in the creative field as well. I started my career as an intern at an art consulting and production agency in Montreal where I was eventually hired full-time; during my time there I learned how to work closely with artists, produce exhibitions and create a community. When I moved to Dubai and joined ICD Brookfield Place, I applied a lot of what I learned over the years to my role here. I now run the Arts & Events in the building where my team and I curated public exhibitions and program the cultural placemaking initiatives within ICD Brookfield Place.
Talk us through some of the exhibitions that take place at ICD Brookfield Place?
Over the past 3 years, we’ve hosted some fantastic shows at ICD Brookfield place. Each exhibition is different, but overall, we try to shift our focus on regional talent and exhibit shows that are accessible to the public and reflect culturally significant events. Some of our highlights include our partnership with Perrotin Gallery, which showcased the iconic Takashi Murakami for the first time in the UAE. Another is the visionary exhibition entitled: Do Arabs Dream of Electric Sheep? Curated by Adam Haj Yahia who explored alternative narratives of understanding the Arab world. Lastly, Tasmeem, it is our annual community-driven graphic design poster show that focuses on young and creative talent across the region.
What are the key elements of your role?
I find that key elements of my role are creating partnerships with galleries and working closely with artists and creatives. This helps foster our existing community while allowing it to grow further. With each show at ICD Brookfield Place, we hope to give artists a platform to showcase and express their work while cultivating a community of creatives across the region.
Talk us through your daily routine.
I start each morning with a workout session at 1Rebel, our wellness gym, or at Reform Athletica for Pilates. This is followed by a coffee catch-up with my colleague Yasmine. We run through our upcoming events and brainstorm new ideas. My days are usually packed with back-to-back meetings but sometimes I get some time away from the office to run around the city visiting artists, galleries and creatives.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?
Try different things to find what drives you, work hard, and keep learning. Every experience has always led me to new opportunities one way or another, you just have to keep an open mindset and be patient. Don’t ever take no for an answer!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
That you don’t need to be the best at everything. Hone in on your skills and excel in what you’re great at, the best work is always a tribute to good teamwork.
And what is the worst?
“Fake it till you make it” I think the intention suggests that by imitating confidence and an optimistic mindset you eventually become those things. However, in my opinion, you need to work hard, keep learning, make mistakes, and slowly you will figure things out. Through these experiences you will find confidence in yourself and in the work you do.
What’s the biggest challenge you have had to overcome?
With joining ICD Brookfield Place, my main objective was to create a cultural program for Public Art and Placemaking. The image of the building being a corporate space made it difficult to produce a program that artists felt comfortable being a part of. With time, the industry began to trust me. The success of the program helped build confidence in my abilities as a curator and within myself. Over time, as an Arts and Events team, we have created exciting work that has pushed the boundaries of a corporate setting by encouraging dialogue about real-world issues. Over the past 3 years, we’ve built an engaging and growing community that attends our shows, talks, and events. We’ve become known in the community as a host of an incredible lineup of unprecedented events that really shake the city.
What’s planned for the future of the space?
There’s a lot planned for the upcoming season. An artist residency and exhibition in partnership with Tabari Artspace showcasing three talented emerging artists, Talal and Ziad AlNajjar and Miramar Muhd which is on display until October 20th 2023. Followed by two large site-specific artworks in November by Kuwaiti visual artist Monira AlQaderi which focuses on sustainability and the environment.
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