ASK A MENTOR with Laila Binbrek – Shares Art world advice with the community

ARTZ ID went into conversation with Laila Binbrek for the second Ask a Mentor session held in September. Laila shared insights from her professional experience so far and ended with some advice for those just starting out and looking to make a career in the arts. For the past 6 years, Laila has been the Coordinating Director of the National Pavilion UAE, which presents the United Arab Emirates’ annual exhibition at the Venice Biennale (art and architecture). She has worked to set the pavilion’s ongoing strategy and vision in collaboration with its commissioner, the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, and manages its operations and team. Additionally, she oversees the development of the Venice Internship, a training program that to date has sent around 200 interns to Venice as ambassadors for the UAE and its rich culture.

Laila considers art as a way to communicate and tell stories that are hidden or unknown. In fact, her move to the UAE provided her with an opportunity to explore that. The UAE is a rapidly-growing and developing country, attracting much curiosity from the rest of the world for knowledge about the region in general and what is happening on that side of the world. Her current job as ‘representative’ of the city, the country, and the region makes it a very interesting time to be in the arts. At the moment, the UAE is going through a very interesting phase and development. 

Courtesy National Pavilion UAE

“If one is pursuing a career as a visual artist it’s important to have exhibitions and shows, to partner with a gallery that feels like the right fit...the more you participate in a network the better, BUT you shouldn’t compromise the quality of your work and your personal values.” Ultimately, audiences and collectors alike look for artists with longevity who are continuously evolving. Having a solid network of peers is more important than putting pressure on oneself to have exhibitions in certain places, for instance. “It takes a lot of time and patience, the art world can be very fickle.”

Laila Binbrek

On the UAE’s national pavilion

One way for the UAE to develop and showcase its artistic and cultural identity is through its national pavilion at the Venice Biennale (both art and architecture). Laila and her team focus on overseeing the pavilion – from selecting artists and curators to delivering the final exhibition. The main focus and vision of the pavilion is to share an untold story of the UAE through art and architecture, particularly since the region is much more diverse and complex than is sometimes immediately apparent. In Laila’s words, every year the question at hand is, “How can we be a little bit more nuanced in the story that we’re telling?” For Laila, encountering artists and creative minds on her job is an opportunity to learn from the stories they tell through their practice.

For what would have been this year’s architecture pavilion, a home -grown architectural firm was selected with a project related to the UAE’s salt flats. The project was selected following an international open call for submissions. The UAE organised its first Venice Biennale pavilion in 2009, securing a permanent space a few years later in 2013.

Since 2009, part and parcel of the pavilion’s operations has been the Venice Internship program. Every month between May and November (the biennale months), 3 interns are sent to Venice to oversee the pavilion for a whole month. What started as a volunteer program has by now evolved into a proper training program with lectures and workshops held prior to departing for Venice. It’s an excellent opportunity for students and young professionals to get working experience in an international exhibition and represent their country. 

Courtesy to National Pavilion UAE

Words of advice for starters in the art world

“Working in the arts can be quite tumultuous sometimes but if you love it, just keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it and always take every opportunity as a learning moment. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, there’s always a possibility to make things and connections happen. Go to openings and shows, build your network – it will eventually help you.” And finally, “Don’t give up and have patience. It can’t be stressed enough.”

It has been an absolute pleasure hosting this ASK A MENTOR session with Laila Binberek, her journey and determination in her career have definitely inspired us. We look forward to welcoming more guest speakers to inspire and guide our community through their experiences and achievements throughout their artistic career. Reach out at if you would like to host an ASK A MENTOR session and connect with our community!

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