Myrna Ayad is one of the most influential voices in art and culture in the Middle East, Iran, and Turkey. She is a Dubai-based cultural strategist, art advisor, and editor. A champion in her field, she is also part of the prestigious Misk Art Grant committee 2021. 

This annual grant is awarded to Saudi and Arab artists by Misk Art Institute, Saudi Arabia's leading non-profit cultural organization. The Grant’s 2021 edition widens its geographic borders and has included artists and designers from the Middle East and North Africa alongside Saudi nationals. A pioneering initiative and the first of its kind in the Kingdom that supports and promotes emerging and mid-career artists by offering them the opportunity to realize new, ambitious projects to be launched at the annual Misk Art Week. 

Myrna Ayad by photographer Karen Kalou

Apart from Myrna Ayad, the 2021 committee led by Misk Art Institute includes: Reem Fadda (Director of Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation), Laila Alfaddagh (Director General of Saudi Arabia's National Museum), and Konstantinos Chatziantoniou, (Head of Collections & Conservation at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture).  

The committee is responsible for picking applicants that have been invited to submit proposals as collectives or individual creatives practicing visual art, painting, sculpture, photography, or multidisciplinary art.

Once the grant is awarded, the committee members work closely with the artists as mentors. 

Misk Art Grant 1st edition artist Ayman Zedani, 'non-human-collaborators,' Mukooth Exhibition 2020
(Multichannel video and audio installation)

Saira Malik: You are a specialist and one of the leading voices in Arab art, and now part of the Misk Art Grant mentoring program. Please tell us more about your role as a mentor to the artists in the program?

Myrna Ayad: This role is incredibly rewarding for me because it grants me the opportunity to interact and engage with creative minds, and that is wonderfully enriching. My role is essentially one of dialogue – there will be a lot of give-and-take and I can only hope to stimulate creative minds in this process. My 15+ years of experience in the regional art arena will come into play and I hope to serve as a support system but also act as a point of reference, discourse, debate, and knowledge.  

SM: Apart from the financial support from the Misk Art Grant, what are the other opportunities the winners can expect?

MA: For a start, the opportunity to realize a dream project is in itself exciting and I hope that this only inspires creatives to think and dream even bigger. In addition to mentorship sessions with members of the selection committee and technical support, the grantees’ works will be exhibited in Masaha in December 2021. That event will no doubt engage with the local community and will be communicated across several media. 

It is early days, but we are exploring the loan of these works to organizations in the Kingdom and abroad which will increase the exposure of local talent. Ultimately this cohort forms part of the Misk Art Grant alumni network and we hope that they share their expertise with future grantees as part of iterations of the Grant. 

Misk Art Grant 1st edition artist Muhannad Shono, 'The Book of Sand,' Mukooth Exhibition 2020
(Silica Saudi sand and resin; 40 x 30 x 5 cm)

SM: What makes the Misk Art Grant unique and stand out from a global perspective compared to similar initiatives in the region and beyond?

MA: Primarily it is the first grant in the Kingdom, and it is the only initiative of its kind that is geared towards Saudi and regional Arab talent. The Grant also caters to a wide variety of artistic practices and offers artists mentorship sessions and technical support. 

SM: As part of the team that will pick the final winning artists, what is the selection process like and what will you be looking for when you review the submissions?

MA: We will definitely be looking at works that adhere to the theme, Under Construction, as well as thoughtful applications that reflect a careful, studied consideration. Ultimately, as a committee member, one looks for fresh, new perspectives, ones that stimulate and make an impact. Contemporary creatives take the pulse of the time and I am eager to see what they’re saying and how they’re going to say it.   

SM: The work of the finalists will be showcased at Misk Art Week, the Institute’s flagship event where it will be seen by a bigger audience giving them great public exposure. What do you hope each winning artist will achieve in the future in relation to them winning the grant?

MA: I very much hope that this grant contributes to significant career development, in terms of craft and skills, but also overall visibility and recognition. I hope that the Grant is a milestone in their lives, a sort of steppingstone onto other initiatives. 

SM: What advice would you like to give to artists that are considering applying for the Misk Art Grant 2021?

MA: Think big and dare. Ask questions, we’re here to help! 

Misk Art Grant 1st edition artist Alaa Alghufaili, 'Recession,' Mukooth Exhibition 2020
(PVC plastic cards; 4.48 x 0.58 m)

Misk Art Grant 2nd edition (2021) recipients will be exhibiting their work at Masaha in December 2021. For more information on the Misk Art Grant and upcoming exhibitions, click here!

Words: Saira Malik
Images: Courtesy of Misk Art Grant

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