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How Sheikh Zayed inspired this Emirati designer to connect the past, present and future with a trophy

“He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn.” This immortal line from the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the UAE, made such a profound impact on Azza Al Qubaisi that the Emirati designer and sculptor made it her life’s mission to showcase the country’s cultural heritage through her work.

Sheikh Zayed is the ‘biggest champion’ for Azza who has embraced his inspiring quote and made it part of her existence.

“I live by that quote, it’s an important part of my existence, I have been trying to work extremely hard to connect the past, present and future through my designs, workshops and artwork in schools, universities and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque,” she says.

As an Emirati woman, Azza now feels blessed to have been given the honour of designing the trophy for the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, a high-profile women’s tennis tournament which starts on Saturday.

The second edition of the premier tournament features some of the best players in the world, including Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka, and Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur, the first Arab player in history to reach a Grand Slam final.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for me as an Emirati artist and a designer, to showcase local talent and to put the spotlight. It is indeed a great opportunity,” she says.

“I mean especially in this period that we are living, all the museums, cultural impact that we are trying to create with different societies we live with, I think it is important as a minority in our own country to showcase the local talent.

“I feel extra privileged because I have already done the trophy for the first Mubadala tournament for men more than a decade ago. So for me to design a piece for a tournament specifically for women and to have done it for men a decade ago is definitely a great opportunity.”

The most famous sports trophy, the Fifa World Cup, was crafted by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga. The awe-inspiring creation depicts two human figures holding the earth aloft.

Azza, on the other hand, turned to Arabic letters to draw inspiration from to create the trophy that will be hoisted by the winner in the Abu Dhabi tennis tournament.

“This trophy is very different, it’s very feminine, I would say. I think that’s really important. Calligraphy has been essential in it. I think showcasing the beauty of the Arabic language is really vital, specifically for the women's tournament. I have been trying to champion Arabic letters, we have different letters associated with different things within the Arabic language, even without using the words, just a letter,” she says.

“So for this tournament, I wanted to make it extra special and focused on the beauty of Arabic letters and their curve, I added the fabrication technique to the piece, and I made it very simple.”

But most sports trophies have been designed by men. Azza, whose works have been showcased in Europe and the Middle East region, says she owes a debt of gratitude to the tournament organisers for showing faith in an Emirati female artist.

“It creates a culture of change, in the past, designs, sports trophies or even art altogether, everything used to be just mainly made by men. So to be part of that change, to create a local design, local impact and to put it on such an international platform, I think it's very important historically,” she says.

“I think that change starts from within. This Mubadala tournament from the beginning has given local talents opportunities to showcase and to put the name out there. I think that is really important for any event that happens in the UAE.”

Remarkably, Azza comes from the same family as Emirati sisters, Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi, the first female race drivers in the UAE.

Azza credits the Emirati ethos for the success of women who are now setting an example for all young girls in the country.

“There are so many different Emirati women out there, who are changing the perception of the general public and I think with the support of our families, we are able to change that perception and excel in what we do,” she says.

“I think that’s the important part. I think there are a lot of women, and even men, I would say from my experience, if it wasn’t for men out there who have supported my journey, it would have been very difficult.”

Born in Abu Dhabi, Azza believes she has been very lucky to have lived around different generations. “I’ve have had the opportunity to work with so many different people from different generations and nationalities, which has allowed me to see life from a different perspective and to grow around that.”

Azza is hoping to repay the faith shown in her with her work every single time she is entrusted with the responsibility of creating a symbol of hope and progress for the country.

“I believe the opportunity that I have received within the UAE, within Abu Dhabi specifically, to shine, and the trust they put in us, the investment they put in us as local talent has definitely given me the edge over others in the sense of experience, in the sense of being able to produce everything locally here in Abu Dhabi, it is really important,” she says.

“For me as an artist, I work with my hands, I create with A to Z, I think that in a way has empowered me to be able to produce everything within my workshop, within my city, use local suppliers for my packaging. I think that in itself is something that changes perspective in a country where we are labelled as consumers, rather than producers. So, we are definitely changing the perspective.”