Hekayah | The Story brings together poets, singers, and musicians.

What does home mean to you? Your country, your city, your family? Celebrate UAE National Day with a lineup of poets, spoken word artists, musicians, and storytellers from diverse backgrounds and cultures coming together for the 8th annual Hekayah | The Story.

A one-of-a-kind event that showcases the beautiful diversity of the UAE; A diverse group of artists explore their heritages and cultural performances. Presented live on The East Plaza, this year’s edition is MC’d by Maryam Alshehhi and features the following artists:

The lineup of performers was selected through a collaborative curatorial process, by key players in the cultural, poetry, arts, and writing communities across the UAE, including: Farah Chamma, Osama Mootassem, Maryam Khalifa Alshehhi, Dorian Paul Rodgers, and Bill Bragin.


Samar Abdel Jaber

Samar Abdel Jaber, b. 1985, is the author of Wa fi rewayaten okhra (And There Are Other Accounts; Malameh Publishing House, 2008), Madha law konna ashbahan (What If We Were Ghosts; Dar al-Ahlia Publishing, 2013), winner of the Palestinian Young Writer of the Year Award from the A.M. Qattan Foundation, Kawkab mansey (The Forgotten Planet; Dar al-Ahlia Publishing, 2016)., and (“Translucence – Between two continents”; Indolent Books, New York, 2018), Abdel Jaber participated in “Arab Female Poets” Festival in Damascus, 2008, Copenhagen Literature Festival, 2012, “Khan Al Fonoon” Festival in Amman, 2016 and in “Hikaya” Festival in New York University in Abu Dhabi, 2018. Abdel Jaber holds a bachelor’s degree from Beirut Arab University and currently works in Dubai.

Maitha Alsuwaidi

Maitha AlSuwaidi is an artist, writer, and researcher, often marrying all three disciplines together in the process of exploring intersectional and interdisciplinary themes in her life and within the ecosystems she exists and has existed in. She is a visual and performance artist. Her performance art exists in both experimental and traditional theater spaces. She acted in the bilingual poetic production, Al Raheel, directed by Joanna Settle and co-commissioned by the NYUAD Art Center and AD Cultural Foundation (2020). She also performed at and co-curated NYUAD Art Center’s Hekayah | The Story (2019-2020). Most recently, her 20-minute, multimedia work in collaboration with artist Reem Al Menhali, titled Amulets of Palm, was showcased in Alserkal Avenue as part of Alserkal’s summer programming, More Than Human (2022). As a writer, Maitha publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in online and print magazines like Sekka and Postscript. She has also performed her spoken poetry in internationally renowned spaces such as DC’s Busboys and Poets and New York’s Bowery Poetry Club, and most recently in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where she performed for ten days alongside a poets’ cohort, collaborating with sound artists and musicians (2022). As an academic, Maitha graduated from NYUAD with a bachelors in Political Science, winning the 2021 Social Science Capstone Award for her thesis “Social Media News and Emirati Public Opinion”. She is currently completing her master’s in Public Policy at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and hopes to synthesize her learnings in policymaking, politics, and digital scholarship in her art-making.

Fatema Al Fardan

Fatema Al Fardan is an artist committed to seeing the world with curiosity and care. Her art practice is driven by inquiries facilitated through the vessel of research. She holds a dual BA from New York University Abu Dhabi in Economics and in Art and Art History: Art Practice (2020). Al Fardan is currently an artist in residence at the Cultural Foundation Abu Dhabi (2022-23) and was granted the Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship (2021-22). Her work has been exhibited in Congress Center Basel (2022), Warehouse421 (2021), and Middle East Institute’s Art and Culture Center (2020). She won the collaborative Zachary Doss Friends in Letters Memorial Fellowship (2020) and “Best Photo Associated with Sustainability” at the Abu Dhabi Ports Photography Competition (2017). Al Fardan likes to hear stories more than she likes to tell them.

Ali Al Zaabi

Ali Al Zaabi is an Emirati poet with the ability to introduce a different poetic cadence to the Middle East. His passion for poetry rose at the age of 14, from Ahmad Shawqi and Fazaa to Def Jam poets such as Common. He is inspired to write poems that are a blend of the best of both worlds, Eastern & Western. He loves to see how different cultures can come together to create great outcomes and is a practitioner of that art. Poetry to him is an art of storytelling, and today at 22 years old, he is proud of what he is capable of, as he portrays the talent of wordsmithing that he’s cultivated and honed on stage, representing our culture, our story, and our Emirati heritage one day.

ZigZag Ghanim

ZigZag Ghanim is an influential Arabic singer for Peace & Love. Appointed by the United Nations as an Official UN Peace Messenger in 2016. he started his path by mixing poems from the Abbasid Empire and others with International music to create fusion songs while preserving the Arabic language and culture. He was voted as ‘Best Vocal’ and announced as the most famous artist for 2 consecutive years in 2014 and 2015.

Danabelle Gutierrez

Danabelle Gutierrez is a multi award-winning artist, writer, actress, and photographer. Her writing has been published in The Common, Cordite Poetry Review, Postscript Magazine, ElectraStreet, WordsDance, and in a video by Vogue Arabia recited by Ciara, among other publications. Danabelle is the author of & Until The Dreams Come and I Long To Be The River and chapbooks Eventually, The River Surrenders and Softer. Born in Las Piñas, raised in Cairo, Vienna, and Muscat, Danabelle’s current work is centered on identity and its relation to locus and the concept of home which, for the past two decades, has been Dubai where she lives, loves, and writes.

Nathalie Handal

Nathalie Handal is the author of seven award-winning poetry books, including Life in A Country Album, winner of the Palestine Book Award and finalist for the Foreword Book Award, and The Republics, lauded as “one of the most inventive books by one of today’s most diverse writers,” and winner of the Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing, and the Arab American Book Award. Handal is the recipient of awards from the PEN Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, Centro Andaluz de las Letras, Fondazione di Venezia, The Africa Institute, among others. She is professor of literature and creative writing at New York University—Abu Dhabi, and writes the literary travel column ‘The City and the Writer’ for Words without Borders magazine.

Moving Mudras

Moving Mudras is a small group of classically trained South Asian dancers across different styles. They believe in the cross cultural power our art forms to communicate and inspire. They have participated in small and curated performance spaces to a wide range of audience profiles, reinventing their traditional forms in innovative and modern ways.

Bea Laszlo

Bea Laszlo is a recent NYUAD graduate, currently working as an Associate Producer & Administrative Assistant at the Arts Center at NYUAD. As a musician, Bea’s interest lies in lyrical storytelling and the exploration of the conjunction of memory, time, and place. She focuses on writing lyrics with a heavy conceptual framework, attempting to find balance between the simplicity of melody and the vulnerability of words. Outside of the arts, Bea enjoys baking, going to the gym, and exploring places outside of home.

Dorian Paul Rogers

Dorian Paul Rogers is a performance poet, Hip Hop artist, educator, and events curator. Much of his poetry addresses his childhood and trauma that he suffered as a bi-racial child growing up in rural Albany, Georgia. His work often aims to be a voice for disadvantaged communities. He has been a featured speaker at over forty universities across the USA and has performed poetry in Ghana, Seychelles, Germany, The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia, South Africa, and Singapore. Dorian is the founder of Rooftop Rhythms, a monthly poetry open mic in the UAE which has gone on to become the Middle East’s largest and longest running poetry event of its kind. His cultural events have been highlighted on CNN, BBC, and Euronews.

Monika Pawlowska

A sophomore from Poland passionate about poetry, literature, and classical music. Monika wants to travel as much as possible and dreams about sailing around the globe.

Jiire Smith

Jiire Smith is a singer and songwriter. His story is of a striving 19 year old pushing past the intricacies of life. While Jiire Smith tells personal experiences, his songs speak to the reality of many lives- struggles, passions, and personal ambition. His music is led by his soulful voice and an emotion-filled lyrical expression. His search for green ground motivated him to move from his hometown Abuja, Nigeria to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates where he is now studying Music at NYU Abu Dhabi. He has become a member of the Rooftop Rhythms poetry and open-mic community, winning Best New Artist of the Year 2022. In Spring 20202, he completed the Performance Artistry and Leadership program at Berklee Abu Dhabi. This 3 month long program is designed to guide young artists through songwriting, production, distribution, publishing, performance and royalty collection. He successfully completed the program and co-produced two songs alongside Latin-Grammy awarded mix engineer Gael Hedding and renowned French producer Jeremy Yeremian. As he forges his path as an artist in the U.A.E, he is optimistic that he will find avenues to share his work and his journey with the community around him and with the world. His primary goal remains to spread love and healing through his songs.

Amal Waqar

Known for her eclectic sound, Amal Waqar is an emerging oud player, singer, songwriter, and producer from Muscat, Oman. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, where she studied under Palestinian Oud Master Simon Shaheen, Amal has lived and worked in the US, Oman, and has recently relocated to the UAE. As a new musician on the local scene, Amal explores what it is to connect under new circumstances, constantly at play and inquisitive of the human spirit in all its states.

Marion Wrenn

Marion Wrenn is the Director of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Writing Program. She is a media critic, cultural historian, and literary editor who writes essays, fiction, and poetry. She earned her PhD from NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and has received grants and awards from NYU, NYU Abu Dhabi, the AAUW, and the Rockefeller Archive Center. At NYU Abu Dhabi, she has taken a lead role in reconceptualizing the undergraduate writing curricula for a global context, with an emphasis on multilingualism, cultural diversity, and critical thinking across disciplines. She co-edits the literary journal Painted Bride Quarterly (pbq.drexel.edu) and co-hosts the literary podcast “The Slush Pile.”