A visit to Rowaida Hakim’s home in Dubai is like stepping inside a magical garden. Even during the hot Gulf summer one can find blooming flowers, mango and lemon trees and all kinds of herbs. “This is my special place, I love nature,” she says as she guides me through the various pathways that circle her home. Feelings of peace and serenity emanate from this natural abode that she has created—the exact same sentiments that she incorporates into her abstract expressionist paintings.
Dazzling blues, yellows, purples, reds and greens merge on her canvases with real gold leaf foil. “Being a jewellery collector with a passion towards gold and precious stones such as rubies, I have always loved adding gold and jewels to my paintings,” she says. “Gold is an important product and we are also using real gold leaves. It will stay there for a long time and keep its glitter and shine.” And shine they do her paintings, like elegant dancers at a party, radiating light, positivity and creativity.
Cities. 2014. Acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
The owner of several real estate companies in Dubai as well as Rowaida Interiors, a high-end design company in Dubai specialised in luxury interiors, Rowaida has loved to paint since she was a young girl in Lebanon. “I was seven-years-old and growing up and I was surrounded by nature,” she remembers. “I loved to see the beautiful views outside our home.” She used to draw the beaches around her, the plants and the trees—anything from the natural world that would touch her heart. She recalls how at school one day one of her friends asked her to paint something and so she created a canvas with a sea view and a ship outside. Her friend placed the artwork in a competition and it immediately won an award.
A self-taught artist, Rowaida’s friends and family encouraged her to paint more, and so she continued. “I have always loved to draw and paint,” she says. “By the age of 13 and 14 I started making ceramic flowers, which I continue to create. I love making these flowers, colouring their petals and their leaves. I make them from my heart and they give me great happiness.” At the age of 15 she began making jewellery using semi-precious stones. “I love making things by hand—it gives me great joy,” she says.
Romance. 2018. Acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
Around that time she started to sell her beaded jewellery—her creative skills were already in demand. Then her family moved from Sour to the UAE. “I began a busy life including working in real estate and interior design and having multiple things to take care of and a lot of stuff in my work—so I didn’t continue as much in my painting as I had earlier,” she says. “But then I opened an interior design company—a wonderful creative outlet for me.” With her interior design business now established in the market, she’s returned to painting in recent years, determined to create her art and explore new techniques and styles.
While she’s entirely self-taught, Rowaida enjoys studying art history. “I love Willem de Kooning,” she says. “The expression of his canvases, his use of colours, movement and brushstrokes. I also love the work of Van Gogh—his colours, light and texture of the painting. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is also one of my all-time favourites—she’s so beautiful and also mysterious. I love artists who love painting colours and nature. Nature for me holds happiness.”
Positivity is Rowaida’s inspiration. “Every painting has its own story and it has to be positive and happy,” she smiles. She spent most of her life in Dubai and made one small work done entirely in black and gold to represent the Dubai night sky. Entitled Dubai Nights, Rowaida created it to represent her love of the city, which has incredible energy at night. “I didn’t want to paint it with normal colours because it was very meaningful to me. I love Dubai. I painted the city with gold leaves.”
Dubai Nights. 2018. Gold leaf and acrylic on canvas
Expressionist strokes of black paint kindle with the gold leaf to evoke a highly abstract night sky, full of movement and life. “When you walk in Dubai during the night all the roads are glowing and when you look higher and higher you still have lights, and then you look at the towers and the beautiful places and those places still have the dots on the top, signalling that they are still there—it is my love and passion for the city that I am trying to express.”
In another work, large circular splashes of colourful paint align together with little touches of gold leaf between them. “The colours need a party,” laughs Rowaida. “They need to enjoy themselves. This painting full of colours is like a party—it brings joy to people.” The colours dance together as if they are hugging each other, she adds. “I draw something which I love and it must express my love and happiness,” says Rowaida. “I know there are people who are more skilled than I am, but for me it is about expressing my love on the canvas. Art must express beauty.”