it all starts with me art competition by NBF
Learn more about the art competition "It All Starts With Me" by NBF and get advice from the judges

“On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so because they recognised the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations.” 

The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of the UAE.

The connection between art and nature is since centuries before, where artists dedicate their art to highlight environmental issues. Across many media and time periods, artists of all cultures has been working building the bridge between art and sustainability. The theme of this year campaign is kept simple, yet too deep rooted “IT ALL STARTS WITH ME“. It is metaphor of our current critical global ecological situation, and the role that each one of us can play individually towards a ‘collective global impact’.

We had a chance to ask a few questions to the the NBF representatives as well as the judges and hope you will enjoy reading their opinions and advice.

Vince Cook, CEO, National Bank of Fujairah

Why have you decided to launch the yearly art competition?

NBF is a firm believer in giving back to the community and is committed to sustainable and environmentally-friendly business practices to support the creative economy. This year’s art competition aligns perfectly with NBF’s Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) agenda, by both supporting the UAE’s burgeoning artistic community, as well as putting the spotlight on ways of reducing our environmental impact and living in a more sustainable way.

What other initiatives does NBF take as a bank on sustainability?

NBF is committed to engaging with and helping the community, protecting the environment and developing local talent in many initiatives held throughout the year, including the NBF Fujairah Run, Najah Career Fair, NBF Technology Academy, and our partnership with Emirates Nature-WWF. As a signatory of the Dubai Declaration on Sustainable Financing, NBF is dedicated to promoting lending in sustainable projects. For instance, last year NBF and APICORP signed a US$ 34 million financing deal with Total Energies for a 50 MW solar portfolio in Dubai, and this year have been supporting the wider use of low sulphur fuel oils in the marine sector, demonstrating the bank’s commitment to the growth of a green economy in line with the goals of the Dubai Declaration and the UAE Energy Strategy 2050. NBF also promotes the development of green products and services, including Green personal loans for customers interested in fuel-efficient, eco-friendly cars and online application processes for onboarding customers that reduces the reliance on paper forms. Apart from this, NBF has implemented numerous green initiatives across its operations to reduce energy consumption. Measures include installing solar water heaters, panels and signage, and replacing artificial lighting with sensor-activated LED lights. At NBF’s Dubai office, a recycling system is in place for used office furniture, paper, toner cartridges and cans. NBF staff, together with Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) and Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network, regularly participate in recycling campaigns.

Are you happy with the results of the first edition and what kind of work would you like to see in this one?

Last year’s inaugural NBF Art Competition received almost 200 entries, demonstrating its value as an initiative aimed at contributing to and enhancing the UAE’s emerging art scene. We are confident the competition will continue to grow, building on last year’s resounding success and can see that these numbers have already been surpassed this year. The competition will be held under the theme “IT ALL STARTS WITH ME!” this year, and aims to encourage positive individual actions to help protect the planet, through the medium of art. It is open for submissions from all UAE based artists (age 18 year and above), in the form of drawing, painting, digital art, or sculpture.

Abda Fayyaz, Senior Manager, Strategic Marketing & Communications, NBF

Why do you think the Sustainability theme is very important today?

The connection between art and nature is since centuries before, where artists dedicate their art to highlight environmental issues. The competition theme emphasises the positive impact of individual actions when taken collectively, leading to a massive change in contributing towards safeguarding our planet Earth. It is a milestone project and everyone in the UAE and across the world we can play a role in tackling climate change and conserving the natural environment for future generations.

What is it like to lead an art project of a national scale?

We are honoured to have the support of distinguished figures from across the UAE art community, through the competition’s Selection Committee, namely Patricia Millns FRSA; Khalil Abdulwahid, Director – Fine Arts, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority; Mara Firetti, CEO, Founder and Curator, Firetti Contemporary Gallery; Ahmad Al Rashid, Founder and Director, TALK Curated Creative Events; and Slava Noor, Founder and Editor of Arte&Lusso magazine. We look forward to receiving responses in the form of art submission and putting NBF on the cultural map. Who knows – we may even uncover a previously hidden talent!

Is there any advice you can give the participants as an artist and the project leader?

Across many media and time periods, artists of all cultures have been working building the bridge between art and sustainability. The theme of this year campaign is kept simple, yet too deep rooted ‘IT ALL STARTS WITH ME!’. Think of making a difference, raising awareness and putting sustainability at the core of your art. We would also encourage participants to use upcycle materials, reclaimed objects and natural resources to create artworks that not only wouldn’t damage the environment but would also celebrate it and protect it.

Khalil Abdulwahid, Director of Visual Arts, Dubai Culture

Why these kind of art competitions are important for the local art scene?

These kind of competitions make a huge impact on the local art scene by supporting the artists and encouraging them to create meaningful work using their talent. It is amazing to see entities like NBF set an example by giving appreciation to the artists in UAE and creating a stronger art community in general.

As someone who regularly attends art events of all sorts and knows the local art scene like nobody else does, what advice you can give to emerging artists?

The most important step is to stay active and keep creating new work and experimenting. The next step is be proactive and not hide in the studio, instead try exploring many opportunities out there from open calls in galleries to art competitions like this one. It is also important to attend many local and international art exhibitions, both for inspiration and to understand how the art scene works as well as networking. Participating in exhibitions allows both to show your work as well as get feedback from art critiques and art lovers.

Mara Firetti, Founder of Firetti Contemporary

As a gallerist, what do you focus on the most when you select the artists to exhibit? How is that similar to selecting winning artworks?

Our artist selection at Firetti Contemporary begins from the core message and value to society expressed by their artistic practice. We value artists that address topics of importance such as climate change, social issues and contemporary matters affecting our society. In considering a winner for this honourable contest, we will focus on the ability of expression of the artist. The artwork proposed should be a manifesto for the future of our planet.

Could you share some of your favorite artists who focus on sustainability ?

Some of our core artists focusing on sustainability include Laura Lappi, Ghizlane Sahli and Helidon Xhixha. These artists provide visual and perceptive insight into the realm of sustainable actions. The impact of intrinsic values is reflected through the well-being of our environment, shedding light on the critical need for a paradigm shift in our current reality. 

Laura Lappi

Lappi is interested in observing and examining how architecture and spatial environments influence our perceptions and affect reality. Her sculptures explore the relationship between physical spaces, man-made structures, and the human mind – the psychogeography of places. Lappi investigates the alienation resulting from the uneasy relationship between the human-made world and nature, as well as the resulting feeling of loss and abandonment, by engaging with the natural context and environmental integrity hidden in urban landscapes. By focusing on the environmental aspects of a place, she brings up important discursive questions about how fine art can help us better understand the roots of our culture and contribute to solving the ecological crisis of our time.

Ghizlane Sahli

Sahli’s three-dimensional embroidery sculptures and installations are made from recovered plastic waste, which she covers with silk thread. An identifying technique she has developed throughout her artistic career, cultivated with the help of ancestral methods and the women artisans who surround her.  Carried by a universal dimension, Sahli’s artwork is immersed with the theme of nature, which is embedded seemingly every day. These pieces represent the need for durable progressions in development and also the future of the planet. Sahli encourages viewers to reconsider their role in sustainability and to take on actions such as recycling and reusing. 

Helidon Xhixha

With an approach that is the result of an artistic upbringing, formal education and the artist’s own instinctive, creative drive, Xhixha presents us with a grand spectacle: Art which challenges its audience. Not simply through its sheer scale and mass but through its engagement with ideas of fundamental importance.

Do you think digital art is just as important as traditional art today? What is your take on NFTs?

Digital art is a new art movement reflecting our present time. It should be embraced as any other movement as a form of expression born from the digitalization of communication. The rise of new digital technologies has expanded the horizons of the Fine  Art sphere.  The metaverse has allowed for traditional art hubs to further connect with people all over the world and has broken down physical boundaries. Firetti Contemporary fully embraces the connectivity brought about by the metaverse and has immersed itself into this new world.

Ahmad Al Rashid, TALK Curated Creative Events

As a judge, what do you search for in the winning artwork?

As a judge I search for originality, individuality and getting to know that the artist did his/her best to bring their idea/concept to life.

What do you think is more important, the concept or the execution?

It has to be a fair thoughtful balance between both! I love and support emerging Creatives.. But emerging should not fall under mediocre.

Trash People by Ha Schult

Can you share some of your fav artists who focus on sustainability /up-cycled art?

Subodh Gupta ,Yuken Teruy, Ha Schult are among my favorite ones

Slava Noor, Arte & Lusso Founder, Art Consultant

What kind of artwork are you looking to discover during the NBF art competition?

Honestly, `I am very excited to see this year’s entries. Last year we saw many interesting artworks and I fell in love with the winning works. UAE has become an art hub for artists from around the world and it is great to see so much talent and artists experimenting with many mediums from traditional painting to mixed media to digital artwork.

The theme of sustainability is very important to me personally and I often ask myself how I can minimize my CO2 footprint and consume more consciously. It also became the key theme of my children’s book “The Pink Mask” with the Trash Monster as a villain.

When it comes to art, I am looking forward to seeing work that is innovative in the use of mediums that corresponds to the theme. I also love conceptual art so a strong message is very important for me. Having seen so many exhibitions around the world, it is quite easy to tell if an artist spent time to do some introspection, to really dig deep and share a personal story instead of just creating something to please the viewer or satisfy a hot trend.

The deadline for the competition is August 30 so hurry up to apply!

Stay inspired and good luck!

Find out more details about the competition on