SAIC alum Ghaleya Almansoori standing in front of mobile studio Kenaz.

SAIC Alum Ghaleya Almansoori Realizes Her Thesis Project: A Mobile Art Studio

In April of last year, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) alum Ghaleya Almansoori (MA 2023) led an Arabic spice painting workshop on campus. Participants learned watercolor shading techniques with coffee grounds and spices. The workshop accompanied Almansoori’s presentation of her thesis, a proposal for a mobile art studio in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Less than a year later, Almansoori debuted Kenaz—teaching the same workshop to children and adults in the UAE. 


Kenaz is a caravan equipped with art and craft materials that travels around the rural areas of the United Arab Emirates, offering workshops on modern art techniques as well as traditional handicrafts. Almansoori manages Kenaz by herself including managing finances, preparing workshops, and overseeing schedules and permits while also providing opportunities for volunteers from schools and universities to learn about and support the programs.


Before coming to graduate school at SAIC, Almansoori spent eight years working within a government education department in Abu Dhabi, leading workshops as the city prepared for incoming museums such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Through this work Almansoori recognized the need for art education to extend into the rural areas surrounding Abu Dhabi where her own family members live. This prompted her to return to school to study Art Education at SAIC.

“I have family all over the [United Arab Emirates]. I saw the need for something like Kenaz,” Almansoori said.

A crowd gathered around Kenaz art center outside during late afternoon.

The Art Education curriculum and Almansoori’s thesis prepared her to manage a project at this scale. Today, she continuously turns back to her coursework for guidance. Thinking back to a reading of Nina Simon’s book The Art of Relevance, assigned by Professor John Ploof, Almansoori was inspired to target a male demographic for Kenaz at a vintage car conference. The resulting workshop was a father-son oriented printmaking course using car imagery. Almansoori also uses insights from her thesis interview with William Estrada, a Chicago-based artist who provides free workshops with his Mobile Street Art Cart. Estrada’s connection to the community was an inspiration for Kenaz. 

“Studying at SAIC gave me the trust that I needed to start with Kenaz. Thanks to advisors, facilitators, and resources like Professor Sarah Ross, who believed in Kenaz process and its goals, I was able to succeed. I came back to Abu Dhabi after I graduated, and immediately started working on the logistics to launch it,” said Almansoori. 

Kenaz’s workshops include a variety of art educational programs such as printmaking, traditional spice painting, Talli embroidery, and mosaic lanterns. Almansoori’s goal is to inspire creativity for all.

“I want to let people know that art is more about creativity, inspiration, and opening the mind to different opportunities,” explained Almansoori. “It’s not necessary [that] they become artists. But [if they continue making art] they’re gonna think creatively. They’re not going to think like everyone else.” 

 A young girl painting a desert landscape with spices on a table, focused and creative


Throughout Kenaz’s first few open months, Almansoori has already noticed the interest and impact on the communities she visits. During a weekend in Fujairah, a couple of hours outside of Abu Dhabi, a young boy named Humaid wanted to take part in a workshop that was fully booked. Almansoori recounts how he offered to help clean between sessions for a spot in the workshops. Almansoori gave Humaid and a few of his friends managerial duties throughout the day, and then offered the boys a private workshop in the evening. After posting about Humaid's help on Kenaz’s social media account, Almansoori was contacted by one of his teachers. Humaid received special recognition at his school for his dedication. 


During a painting workshop, a young girl named Alyazia garnered Alamnsoori’s attention. Alyazia completed multiple works during her session and seemed to enjoy the process, so Almansoori wanted to encourage her further by offering to exhibit her work.  

“Her father was so proud. She deserves to have the attention, and I want her to go on and [continue] to do it,” said Almansoori.

Children gathered around a table at sunset doing crafts.

Since Kenaz’s opening, Almansoori has expanded her future goals to include a permanent space for exhibitions, courses, and a larger facility to accommodate school trips on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi while the caravan continues to travel to further regions of the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s a huge project. I feel like I’m doing it, and [it’s time] to have a real staff, a team, to make it grow even bigger,” said Almansoori.

Since opening, Almansoori has already become an inspiring community member. She was invited to the House of Wisdom, a library and cultural center in Sharjah, to give a mentoring course to emerging artists who want to turn their practice into a business.

The upcoming summer months will offer only indoor programs due to the extreme heat of the season, and Almansoori is looking forward to brainstorming more programming ideas and working on combining a data base for upcoming months.

“I would love to enjoy the process more than the finish line,” she said.

Kenaz Mobile Art Center in action at sunset.