KHAMSA

5 talented people
5 thoughtful questions
5 unique insights.

This Women’s History Month (WHM), KHAMSA unveils a special series titled ‘The 5×5’ — where we ask 5 talented people the same 5 questions. By posing the same questions to each, we uncover the unique perspectives and experiences that define them. Through their contrasting and complementary answers, we’ll gain a deeper understanding of what drives them, their creative sparks, and the challenges they’ve overcome.

The inaugural edition of the 5×5 is a special tribute to the talented women that are shaping the Middle East. We’ve selected five inspiring women from diverse backgrounds — artists, designers, healthcare professionals, consultants — who are leaving their mark on the region. WHM, celebrated every March, is a dedicated time to honour the remarkable contributions of women throughout history. It’s a month to recognize the countless ways women have shaped our world, from pioneering scientific discoveries to leading social movements. We, at KHAMSA (meaning “five” in Arabic) have chosen to celebrate this spirit with a series featuring five exceptional women — each a powerhouse in their own right.

Our process of selection was meticulous. We sought women who embody the spirit of WHM – those who are breaking barriers, pushing boundaries and leaving a lasting legacy in their respective fields. These women, through their talent and dedication, showcase the immense potential and diverse voices that women in the Middle East bring to the table.

Prepare to be surprised, inspired and challenged as we explore the idiosyncrasies of these remarkable women. Get ready to meet Eman Ali, Helen Nonini, Wafa Al Falahi, Dr. Saliha Afridi, and Dana Barqawi, as we delve into their captivating 5×5.

١. Eman Ali

Photo courtesy Eman Ali

Eman Ali is an Omani visual artist whose work explores the relationship between gender, religion and social politics in the Khaleeji culture. Her artistic practice spans photography, text, sound and installations. Ali’s work compels us to reflect on the untold stories of our society, and to examine the systems shaping our experiences. She has garnered international recognition, making her a leading voice in the contemporary Middle Eastern art scene. Ali has exhibited her work at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, the MENA Art Fair in Brussels, and the Paris Photo Fair. She is the winner of the 2020 Single Image Female in Focus Award by the British Journal of Photography.

١. Favourite

  1. Character from fiction? The fig tree
  2. Flavour? I like sweet & spicy pairings
  3. Stress reliever? Swimming laps
  4. Recent invention? Boob tape

٢. Least Favourite

  1. Word: Bro
  2. Food: Lentils
  3. Feeling: Anxiety
  4. Sound: My alarm in the morning

٣. How do you define love?

٤. Who is the person you most admire and why?

My mum. Her inner strength is absolutely incredible, and I aspire to reach that level someday.

٥. What is your motto? 

A simple one that has guided me throughout my life: Always stay true to yourself!

٢. Helen Nonini

PHOTO CREDIT: Danilo Scarpati 

Italian-Egyptian Helen Nonini is a force for change in the business world, leveraging her experience in finance, non-profits, and luxury goods to help brands embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). She is the CEO and founder of Schwa, a consultancy agency based in Milan whose work has led to significant growth in her clients’ DE&I initiatives. Her Middle Eastern heritage has deeply influenced her approach to beauty, fashion and fragrances. Known for her signature style and unwavering commitment to social responsibility, Helen is a trusted advisor and a powerful voice for change.

١. Favourite

  1. Character from fiction? Alice in Wonderland. She represents the incredible power of imagination.
  2. Flavour? Sweet and sour 
  3. Stress reliever? Dancing. It makes people smile, no matter how they were feeling before. 
  4. Recent invention?

٢. Least Favourite

  1. Word? Hate. It has a strong impact on the mental health of everybody affected.
  2. Food? Elaborate recipes. I love simplicity and high-quality raw ingredients.
  3. Feeling? Envy is a waste of time, and it drains a lot of energy from your system.
  4. Sound? Fast cars in urban areas.

٣. How do you define love?

It’s an energy based on respect and empowerment of personal growth.

٤. Who is the person you most admire and why?

Everyone who is making an effort to create a social impact. Because they are trying to turn the world into a better place.

٥. What is your motto? 

“To be a free thinker is truly the greatest luxury.”

٣. Wafa Al Falahi

Image courtesy Wafa Al Falahi

Wafa Al Falahi is a rising Emirati multidisciplinary designer whose artistic practice defies singular definition, encompassing ceramics, drawing, and furniture making. She has carved a niche with her vibrant works that explore the intersection of culture, history, and science. Al Falahi’s designs are deeply influenced by her Emirati heritage and her experience as a woman in the Middle East. Her work often draws inspiration from traditional Emirati crafts and materials, such as clay. She has participated in prestigious programs like the Athath Fellowship and the Tashkeel Tanween design program.

Wafa is now pushing boundaries with her exploration and commitment to sustainable design, through her ongoing development of biodegradable plastic made from henna. Her work serves as an inspiration for aspiring Emirati artists and designers.

١. Favourite

  1. Character from fiction? Michael Scott from The Office.
  2. Flavour? Spice. I always think that the spicier a dish is, the more I enjoy the other flavours.
  3. Stress reliever? Spending time with my cats. I think it is a great way to disconnect from the real world. 
  4. Recent invention? Bio-plastics.

٢. Least Favourite

  1. Word? Sketching. It might sound odd, but I’ve come to appreciate the importance of using “drawing” instead.
  2. Food? Anything with texture that doesn’t feel natural, like oatmeal.
  3. Feeling? Anxiety.
  4. Sound? Nails scratching a wall.

٣. How do you define love?

Love, to me, is akin to a full, encompassing circle. It transcends mere emotion, representing a profound sense of inner completeness that radiates outward. It’s an intricate interplay between our internal world and the world around us. As we engage in expressions of love, we not only enrich the lives of those around us, but also nurture a sense of inner harmony and oneness.

٤. Who is the person you most admire and why?

Ólafur Elíasson. Discovering his journey through a documentary during the early stages of my career significantly influenced my perspective on design’s potential. Ólafur’s dedication to pushing boundaries and challenging conventional norms instilled in me a sense of courage to experiment and break free from the confines of traditional design.

٥. What is your motto?

(The interview has been edited for brevity)

٤. Dr. Saliha Afridi

Image courtesy Dr. Saliha Afridi

Dr. Saliha Afridi is a clinical psychologist and founder of The LightHouse Arabia, one of the largest and most reputable clinics in the UAE, making mental health and wellness services accessible to the region. She and her team have contributed many hours to the community, raising awareness and educating people about mental health best practices. Her efforts include bringing Mental health First Aid to the UAE, training over 1,000 mental health first-aiders to detect and treat mental health issues early.

Passionate about emotional well-being from a young age, Dr. Afridi works with adults, children, and adolescents using various techniques to address a range of mental health conditions. Her dedication to her patients has become instrumental in changing the conversation surrounding mental health in the UAE.

١. Favourite

  1. Character from fiction? Batman and Cinderella
  2. Flavour? Not sure if it’s a flavour, but anything spicy
  3. Stress reliever? Walking barefoot onto the earth
  4. Recent invention? The smartphone

٢. Least Favourite

  1. Word? It’s not a word, but hearing ‘circle back’ is so irritating
  2. Food? Foods with mushy/slimy textures
  3. Feeling? I love and appreciate all feelings. Each one comes with an important message  
  4. Sound? Loud, high-pitched sirens. They trigger my whole nervous system!

٣. How do you define love?

٤. Who is the person you most admire and why?

This is very hard to answer. I don’t have a single person I admire the most – my father, my mother, my husband, and my kids – I deeply admire all of them. Most for their resilience, dedication, and courage, but also for what they have all taught me.

٥. What is your motto?

Remember what you are.

٥. Dana Barqawi

Representation: Emergeast

Dana Barqawi is a multi-disciplinary artist and curator based in Amman, utilises her background in urban planning and architecture to craft art that reflects the socio-political realities of the world. She explores themes of womanhood, indigenous identity, and community, while challenging colonial narratives through politically and socially engaged art. Her work extends beyond the studio, with a deep commitment to social justice. She’s spent years working with INGOs and Government bodies, and has trained in Europe, Africa, and The Middle East, focusing on community involvement and development. Barqawi’s artistic journey is fueled by her upbringing around women who were involved in many art forms. This is reflected in her work, which involves continuous experimentation with materials.

١. Favourite

  1. Character from fiction? Santiago, the shepherd boy from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  2. Flavour? Depends on the context, but lately I’ve been into spicy and sour
  3. Stress reliever? I like to walk off my stress, and organize my space, it gives me a sense of control
  4. Recent invention? My favourite recent invention is going back to nature

٢. Least Favourite

  1. Word? “Ugly”, “hate” and any word that would put anyone down
  2. Food? Cabbage
  3. Feeling? Confusion and Anger
  4. Sound? Finger nails on a chalk board, I just gave myself goosebumps writing this

٣. How do you define love?

Love is acceptance. Acceptance of another, acceptance of oneself, acceptance of the universe and its workings.

٤. Who is the person you most admire and why?

٥. What is your motto?

Let go and let God.

While each woman’s story is unique, there’s a unifying thread that runs through the series — resilience. These women have navigated a world often designed for others, yet they’ve thrived. Their journeys offer valuable lessons and serve as powerful testament to the unwavering spirit of women.

Stay tuned, for the 5×5 feature will continue beyond WHM, spotlighting a new group of five talented people with each edition.

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