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Cultured Focus: The Zay Initiative at Cartier’s Women's Pavilion at Expo 2020

Dr. Reem El Mutwalli Discusses The Zay Initiative's Synergies with Expo 2020
The Zay Initiative | Women's Pavillion | Expo 2020

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Cultured Focus Magazine at Expo 2020’s Women's Pavilion sponsored by the Cartier Foundation, The Zay Initiative’s Dr. Reem El Mutwalli lays out the extremely important and diligent work conducted by her foundation in preserving the cultural heritage of the Arab world. The Zay Initiative, founded in 2019, owns and manages the world-first Arab dress-history archive.

Inspired by intricately designed dresses from an early age, Dr. Mutwalli found herself drawn towards the industry as a whole during her time as the head of the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi. Over the course of her career, she collected dozens of dresses going back all the way to the founding of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Finding that she still needed to collect more dresses for a complete collection, she decided to form The Zay Initiative; a sprawling yet intimate take on the evolution and development of dresses throughout the Arab world. Dr. Mutwalli is vigorously invested into her work and her passion and love for the initiative shows when she discusses the painstaking process involved in collecting the dresses from all over the world. Her stunning success can be seen from the fact that her connections enabled her to come in possession of a 60s era Libyan dress, one that was bought by an American oilman working in the country during that time period. As the dress travelled from Libya to America and then to Dr. Mutwalli, it seemed as if it was on its own little journey spanning 80 years from its inception to its final resting place at the Zay Initiative.

Incorporating her work with women empowerment, Dr. Mutwalli explains that she decided to partner with top trailblazing women from the UAE to wear some of these iconic dresses. The Draped in Heritage Photographic Exhibition on display in the Women's Pavillion featuring twenty trailblazing Emirati women, draped in historic outfits from the Zay Collection is an exquisite representation of Mutwalli's work, passion and commitment. It always seemed to her like a no-brainer that women at the forefront of some of the most cutting edge fields in the UAE would come together to adorn the historical dresses and through the initiatives diligent work this happened. A labour of love, The Zay Initiative has managed to accomplish a tremendous amount of work in such a short time span. An epitome of grace and purpose, Dr. Mutwalli is the perfect leader at the helm of the initiative, one that is in its early stages but has the potential for exponential growth. With the birth of the initiative and the global recognition that has come, it is time to nurture the project and in order to do so, further support is needed explained Mutwalli. The Zay Initiative is not a governmental institution, it is an individual non-profit organization registered in the United Kingdom which lends credibility. But to further the organization’s credibility, more Ph.D. and Masters level researchers and writers are needed to assist with the rigorous in depth research that is required to further the initiative's goals. Additional funding from individuals, institutions, brands and corporations will support the important work that needs to continue in order to grow the existing body of work. Those interested can become a friend of The Zay Initiative and donate to the organization. Like-minded individuals that believe in the organization's work and the necessity of sustaining culture and traditional crafts are able to take action from wherever they are located internationally to provide support and assist in The Zay Initiative’s growth. Mutwalli explained that it is important to understand that when supporting the initiative, donors are empowering others, since the initiative is employing individual craftswomen. Therefore, if socially conscious, one does not need to be particularly interested in fashion to help, but in helping your fellow human beings thereby empowering women. Those interested in becoming more actively involved and/or donating can reach out at View our full interview and discussion with Dr. Mutwall below.

Dr. Reem El Mutwalli Discusses The Zay Initiative at Expo 2020

In short, Dr. Mutwalli has achieved a fascinating precipice; collecting decades’ old pieces of clothing from the far reaches of the Arab world to preserve their stories, their intricate design processes, the love of their manufacturers and the impacts of these dresses on local cultures. Dr. Mutwalli’s Zay Initiative has therefore managed to fulfill a much needed cultural milestone in a region where arts and culture is experiencing a transformation so rapidly that pundits and observers are having a difficult time keeping up. With utmost care and passion, The Zay Initiative has managed to save an important part of the region’s culture for the inspiration of countless future generations of the entire Arab world. About | The Zay Initiative : The Zay Initiative was founded by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, a published author with over 40 years of experience in art and cultural heritage.

Dr. El Mutwalli has invested in a collection of historic dress over the course of the past decades. The core of the collection is based on UAE traditional dress, in addition to key examples from Yemen, Morocco, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and others.

The collection includes examples acquired from the simplest rural families to the ruling families of the region. While the majority of the objects focus on critical dress samples from the neighbouring region we will acquire additional acquisitions in time and engage with and promote existing collections to encourage collaboration and knowledge exchange.

The Zay Initiative aims to promote an understanding of the evolution of regional culture, building up public awareness and appreciation of this unique heritage, reaching out to like-minded individuals and institutions nationally, regionally and globally.

In addition to seasonal or touring exhibitions and museum loans, the collection is accessed through the digital archive (Collection), first of its kind on a regional level. fortified by a pop-up glossary in both Arabic and English.

The Zay Initiative aims to empower women regionally and globally by bringing their untold stories to life. In addition, it has an online scholarship programme to sustain the past and inspire the future. Become involved and visit

About | Cultured Focus

Cultured Focus is an entertainment news magazine and network that provides the latest in arts and culture within the United States and globally. Since its creation in 2016, the magazine has interviewed the best talent from around the world from A-list celebrities, artists, to business leaders and influencers making a positive impact within their communities. The publication is particularly proud of the diverse talented group of artists and female change makers that have had international exposure on the platform. The magazine is a subsidiary of GR Multi-media productions.

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