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Meet Zainab Al Farhan Al Imam: The Queen of Arab Fine Art Auctions

Zainab Al Farhan Al Imam speaking during one of her events
Zainab Al Farhan Al Imam speaking during one of her events
Summary. Meet the renowned Zainab Al Farhan, queen of Arab fine art auctions. From art to fashion to special needs products, Zainab has pioneered her way through business in an unprecedented manner. Raised in an intellectually stimulating family, Zainab has leveraged her cultural heritage and innovative spirit to make significant contributions to the UAE and beyond. She founded the largest showroom in the GCC for disabled equipment, elevated the global presence of female Arab artists through high-profile auctions, and introduced GCC fashion designers to international platforms. Her achievements are a testament to her dedication and vision, transforming industries and empowering communities along the way.

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To describe Mrs Zainab Al Farhan Al Imam as the queen of auctions is an understatement. Meeting the lady who have changed the lives of so many women in the middle east is nothing short of inspirational. From Iraqi and Saudi descent, Zainab is a cultural and entrepreneurial bridge between the Middle East and Europe. With three successful businesses all built from scratch by her determination and expertise, Zainab has created countless opportunities for many women in art, fashion, business and more. As she joins the Arab Entrepreneurs Board in London, we are deeply honoured and thrilled to share her exclusive interview,  highlighting her incredible, and very unique, 30-years journey of excellence. We asked her about her background and its influence on her career, her start in business, her inspiration, her business acumen and strategy that got her into the auction business, and her advice to women in the Middle East.


I am Zainab Al Farhan, and I consider myself fortunate to have been raised in an intellectually stimulating and hardworking family. My father, Mahmoud Al Farhan, hails from Iraq, and my aunts, all UK graduates, pursued their education at a time when traveling to Europe required more than one stop. My father’s side of the family is deeply cultural, while my mother’s side, originates from Saudi Arabia and comprises writers and art enthusiasts. My mother, Asma Al Mana, is recognised as the first and most important art collector in Saudi Arabia.


Our family was among the first Iraqi families in London to send the second generation to Europe for education. At that time, the UAE did not have universities, so many sent their children to Egypt and Iraq for higher education. However, our father chose to send us to London. I graduated from Richmond University, and my sister Maha graduated from Bristol University, marking us as the first generation from the UAE to study in Europe. After completing my studies, I returned to the UAE in 1995.


Back in the UAE, I once visited the Sharjah Humanitarian Services, and I noticed the lack of resources for people with disabilities. Talking to the director Shikha Jamilah Al Qasimi, she confirmed that there are no local companies in the GCC region that provides the needed equipment for people with special needs and disability. Inspired by this gap in the market and the much needed service, I decided to open the first company in the GCC to provide comprehensive equipment for disabled individuals, ranging from infants to seniors. I established the largest showroom in the GCC, offering a variety of necessities such as wheelchairs, medical equipment, special needs beds, and pushchairs in different sizes and colours. This venture made me well known to be the first woman in the Middle East to create such a significant resource for the disabled. My business eliminated the need for people to travel abroad for these supplies, as I made everything available locally.


I gained recognition as a pioneer businesswoman, becoming a member of women empowerment organisations such as the Emirati Business Women and the Arab Association for Business Women. After years of success with my company,and when I children reached the time to build their education, I decided to send them to London so they can benefit from the experience I had in the UK. Upon arriving in London, I realized that despite my renown in the GCC, we were not as well known internationally. This prompted me to gather women from the GCC and host summits in London, leading to the establishment of the Women Growth & Success Forum (WGSF), my second company overall, and first in the UK.


Noticing a gap in the market for artists, I launched initiatives to bring female artists to London under royal patronage and organised auctions for their paintings through prestigious auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams. This exposure helped elevate the value and recognition of their work in the global market. For instance, an artist who previously sold her art for 20,000 AED saw her work auctioned for 650,000 AED, and another artist from Canada went from selling her paintings for $50 to £5,000. I helped these artists build their CVs, which significantly enhanced the value of their paintings and hence their earnings. This initiative supported by WGSF manifested in a series of auction events called Konooz, translating to the Arabic language as ‘Treasures’.


Recognising the lack of Arabic presence in the fashion market, I established Ziryab Fashion Show London. This company introduced female designers from the GCC to international platforms such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and London Fashion Week. These designers gained international recognition, and their haute couture dresses began selling at much higher prices, elevating them from local designers to international fashion icons.


I am proud of the positive changes I have facilitated in the Middle East and my accomplishments. My father, husband, and children have been my pillars of support. I firmly believe in the power of family collaboration. As a mother, I understand the importance of mutual support and empowerment within the family. When we collaborate and work together, we all reach our highest potential.

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