Uninterrupted: Sheikha Maytha on giving art time

Sheikha Maytha Bint Obaid Thani Al Maktoum tells Laura Egerton the reasoning behind the unusual viewing experience of her recent works, as well as her upcoming tribute to Dubai

In our hectic world it is often impossible to spend uninterrupted time with a work of art. We feel under pressure to watch the entirety of a performance or video, but when faced with a painting it is easy to give it a cursory glance and move on. The Louvre found that people look at the Mona Lisa an average of 15 seconds: Her Highness Sheikha Maytha Bint Obaid Thani Al Maktoum gave her audience fifteen minutes to experience her series of five paintings ‘Scent of a Rose’ which were on display at the Mina Al’Salam, Dubai in January.

You are led into a darkened ballroom and told to stand under a spotlight: intense classical music fills the space and suddenly light appears on a canvas. After several minutes it switches off and a second is illuminated; the same sequence is repeated five times and the experience is complete.

The character of the music, by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner echoes the dramatic shifts of mood within the paintings, which chart the sensual journey of a rose bud coming into bloom.

“The metamorphosis of the rose and how it engaged all my senses was the key,” Sheikha Maytha tells us. “A single painting didn’t convey the story that I wanted to narrate and therefore I painted the sequence. I wanted others to feel the same emotions I felt in the most simplistic transformation that we witness on a daily basis – when a rose blooms and emanates its scent in the atmosphere.”

She claims to be inspired by the Symbolist’s Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha but these particular works feel much more like John Martin’s paintings, an English Romantic from a decade earlier. His melodramatic compositions depicting cataclysmic moments such as the Deluge or Apocalypse share sudden contrasts of light and dark with ‘Scent of a Rose’.

Despite its intimate subject matter, the works have a Zen-like quality: attempting to capture in paint something entirely ephemeral and invisible.

The series is the first she ever produced, completed in 2003. Sheikha Maytha has been painting consistently since then and following this first showcase of her work there are plans to exhibit more. The next is a tribute to her home city of Dubai. “From the tallest monument of Burj Khalifa to numerous world-class art events, this city continues to amaze its people,” she exclaims.

“I am proud to be part of this country and its growth”. She has recently become patron of the Dubai International Arts Centre in Jumeirah where she developed her skills and she plans to develop workshops there to encourage younger artists. “I hope my step in going public with my art will help correct the image of women's empowerment in this region.”