Budding artist, Maryam Ahmed, argues for the importance of art in society and its role in highlighting the strength of Qatari women.

Maryam Ahmed, a rising star in the Qatari art scene, is making it to the top tier of artists in the country with her stunning portraits and awe-inspiring sculptures.

Boasting themes of female empowerment and Qatari identity, her oil paintings, many of them live, feature prominent and graceful [mostly] female figures and elements of traditional wear. Using subtle hues and gold leaf backgrounds, she presents the Qatari woman as a powerful figure in society.

“As a woman it means a lot to me to present women, as I understand their feelings. I love painting women and I believe Qatar is central to my art. Each of my paintings has been made in Qatar, inspired in Qatar, and made by Qatari hands. We work for the sake of Qatar,” she says with pride. Working with materials such as oil paint and pen, she also enjoys painting and drawing animals such as horses and eagles, which are native to the region. The artist is also trying to develop herself as a sculptor. She says: “I always loved sculptures but didn’t have the knowledge to make them. One day I saw an ad for a workshop on sculpting and I decided to go for it. I loved it and started to get better with practice. Now I like to sculpt head figures mostly.”

Of her paintings, she explains: “I started out with colour pencils as a child, drawing cartoons and celebrities. As I matured, I started painting portraits and paying models to pose for me so I could paint them.

“For my paintings, I start with an idea or a subject and arrange it on my iPad to see how it would look when finished, even with a frame and on a wall with lights,” she explains.

Art has always been a part of Maryam’s life: “I have held on to it at my side, throughout school, college, marriage, motherhood and work. I never stop painting. The best thing is when I get to look at a finished work, whether it is sold or not. “I come from an artistic family. My father loves to collect antiques, my mother loves to draw, and my older sister is an artist as well as an art teacher. As a child my mother always asked me to show off my drawings if we had some guests over at our house and I always received compliments. It always made me so happy.”

Though art started as a personal hobby for Maryam, she has now sold a multitude of paintings, including portraits of the royal family.

“In the beginning I was not interested in painting for financial benefit or selling. That was not my goal. I also did not like to be forced to paint a specific subject. I would not take requests. This contributed to the development of my own style and themes, until I had buyers who wanted to buy works that were my choice. This encouraged me and increased my confidence in myself.”

With the limited time she has due to a busy schedule and family duties, most of Maryam’s work has now become requests: “I don’t mind it now and I even enjoy these requests because they push me to practice new skills. They challenge me and contribute to my development as an artist.”

Maryam took some time off work between 2016 and 2021 to become a full-time artist. She was appointed at the Fire Station as an artist in residence for the span of nine months in 2016 and developed a website gallery store called ‘Iqtinaa’ (meaning ‘Acquisition’) where she sells her work. She also led workshops on portraiture and has illustrated a calendar, called the Qatar Wall Calendar 2022, bookmarks for the Doha Book Fair for the last four years, and a children’s book called The Traditional Games: Story Series by Dr. Maha Al Hendawy as per a request from Mathaf. The artist has also been a board member of the Qatar Fine Arts Society for the last three years.

“The best moment came when I saw my paintings in the palace of His Highness Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. I went there to get details, take inspiration and get a feel for the colours in a certain area in the palace to work on a commissioned work requested by HH Shaikha Alanoud bint Hamad Al-Thani, and I saw two portraits that she bought back in 2014. I got so distracted just looking at them. It made me so happy.”

Maryam was also visited by HH Shaikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani at her studio in the Fire Station. “She came to see my painting of His Highness Shaikh Tamim and was so impressed she immediately asked to purchase it.”

Maryam also participated in a 5×5 exhibition at QM Gallery Katara, where she, along with four other artists, each chose five works to showcase. Maryam chose a group of female portraits which she named Power, Confidence, Stability, Calm, and Creativity, the first of which is extremely dear to her. The artist had her first solo exhibition in 2007 and has exhibited her work in Qatar, Algeria and Germany.

When asked about what advice she would give to aspiring artists, she urges diligent practice and a confidence to ‘show your art’ as well as seek a nurturing environment of likeminded people as ‘there are many artists that want to have connections and artistic friends’.

She then offers an additional word of encouragement: “We don’t need to change direction or go outside the box to prove ourselves. Realist artists face so many critics along the way but, for me, time has proven that our art is important and needed.” ✤