Wafika Sultan Saif Al-Essa is considered the first Qatari professional visual artist. One of Qatar’s most active artists since the 1970s, she graduated from Cairo’s Academy of Applied Arts in 1975 and was part of a group of artists who sought to inscribe painting in Qatari society and to develop a creative dialogue between artists and other social groups. Sultan Saif Al-Essa and her peers built relationships with fellow artists and intellectuals across the region, while also documenting a local culture and society that was being transformed because of oil and urban expansion. Sultan Saif Al-Essa’s first solo exhibition, held in Doha in 1974, was followed by numerous others. In 1976 she participated in the second Arab Biennial in Rabat.
Sultan Saif Al-Essa’s paintings draw on Qatari folklore, ornament, songs and natural history, interrogating relationships between men and women and questions of genre. She frequently depicts groups of women and scenes of everyday life with a progressive perspective, as in her early painting On the Coast. Portraying a casual gathering of three dark figures seated on the beach, Sultan Saif Al-Essa explored Qatar’s relationship with the sea and fishing traditions as these were being eclipsed by a burgeoning oil industry.