A window reflects many things – a metaphor for illumination from darkness, showcasing a small view of the outside world and at the same time allowing a glimpse into the inside. During the lockdown days the window took on a new meaning as we gazed at the world with new eyes. It also became a theme for an online photography exhibition aptly titled “View from my window”. Launched by Dubai-based Selfie TV and W2W events & PR the exhibition includes images submitted from 66 photographers from around the world, including countries as far as Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Sudan and Singapore.
“The concept of sharing views from people’s windows came amidst the global lockdown of many countries, when everyone was limited to the views from their windows and people found creative ways to find inspiration. We were pleasantly surprised to receive images from around the world,” says Sahar Mahmood, founder of Selfie TV. A video with all the images will be posted on June 27, 2002, on www.selfietv.co and on its youtube channel — @selfie Tv.
Over 100 art works are on display for a virtual tour at Sharjah Art Museum. ‘A Century in Flux – Chapter II’ the online exhibition can be accessed through the following link: https://bit.ly/2YVSAEd. Launched in collaboration with Barjeel Art Foundation (BAF) the exhibition also marks the occasion of the International Museums Day, on May 18. On display are 126 art exhibits demonstrating a broad range of styles, techniques, and thematic directions from art practices in Arab countries between the 1880s and 1980s.
The show invites visitors to reflect on the selection strategy, encourages them to pose critical questions and to think about the broader issues of inclusivity. It also aims to question of gender inequality in the art world. “As we become more reliant on technology to help facilitate how people experience art during the current situation. This virtual exhibition will initiate much needed debates beyond the limits of place and time on topics such as that of gender representation in museums that are pertinent and must continue to be emphasized in the curatorial discourse,” said Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority.
Works of prolific artists from the Arab World, including Jewad Selim, Shakir Hassan Al Said, Abdul Qader Al Rais, Etel Adnan, Mona Hatoum, Gazbia Sirry, and other lesser known artists are featured in the second chapter of the exhibition that was first launched last November.
Art Collector and Founder of BAF, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi noted that the show, which draws together artists from across the Arab World, is a treasure trove of histories, layered political accounts, and of moving reflections on the human condition.
This initiative is part of SMA’s continuous efforts to reach out and engage members of the public during the Coronavirus lockdown. “We are delighted to offer access locally and globally to everyone generally interested or studying art related topics. The Sharjah Art Museum has always been a museum free and open to all, continuing to bring to its audiences world class exhibitions and an extensive calendar of educational programming. This new iteration of A Century in Flux, will allow our audiences to appreciate and understand the impact of artists and their important role in the development of societies notion of their identity and collective history,” Ataya added.
Vibrant, ancient and detailed – are some of the synonyms that describe Phad paintings of Rajasthan, India. Made on a long piece of cloth or canvas called Phad, these paintings depict heroic folk tales of local deities – Pabuji and Devnarayan. The stories on these scroll paintings were inspired from mythological books and were used as mobile temples. Dubai-based phad artist Smita Aloni has been ardently creating this rare and fast dwindling art form for over two decades. She has exhibited her collection of paintings at various art spaces around the world; conducted workshops and taught students. In this interview she speaks about her association with this unique art form and the process behind its creation.
What is the cultural significance of Phad art? Take us back to its historic roots?
Phad art originated around 700 years ago in the Bhilwara region in Rajasthan. These miniature paintings made on scrolls called Phad convey stories of valour of a local king during those times called Pabuji. The phad cloth is used as a visual aid for mobile temples that nomadic tribesmen travelled with while singing songs and narrating stories of Pabuji’s bravery. Usually a priest — Bhopa and his wife Bhopi — would sing these mythological hymns. They used to commission artists from the Joshi family to make the Phad art. Shree Lal Joshi and his son Kalyan are earnestly carrying on this traditional art form to date.
How did you get associated with Phad art?
In 2001 I got an opportunity to witness a phad painting being made by award-winning artist and my guru Kalyan Joshi. I was intensely attracted to the colour and style of the painting and instantly decided to learn and pursue this art form. I consider myself still a student forever uncovering various facets of these paintings.
Tell us about the unique artistic format of Phad painting, materials used and style of art?
Phad art follows a unique style. From the canvas to the traditional colours everything is made by the artist. For the canvas a white cotton cloth is soaked overnight in cold water and kept for drying during the morning. While it is still moist, it is dipped into a homemade starch solution (made from flour and water) and then left to dry in bright sunlight. The cloth is then stretched and one part of it is polished with smooth glass to produce a shiny texture. Once this canvas is ironed from the opposite end it is ready to be painted on.
All the colors that we use are natural and derived from stones such as red clay to make the colour brown and indigo for blue. Due to non-availability of natural stones and colours we now also paint with synthetic colours. Creating a phad painting takes years of practice and patience. It’s important to also have a steady hand in line drawing.
Share with us a repertoire of your work and artistic milestones?
My journey with Phad art has seen a steady growth in the last two decades. I developed my artistic skills not only by actively painting and practising the art but also by teaching art in schools. While living in Qatar, from 2001 to 2017, I participated in various exhibitions and workshops. Dubai too offers a fantastic platform to artists. In a short period of time being in Dubai since 2018 I have participated in several exhibitions including World Art in 2019 and the Hotel Show, 2019. I have received a great response for my Phad paintings from the artist community in Dubai. One of my biggest milestones was representing Phad on the international platform at the Pechakucha Art Festival, Doha, in 2005. The response to my art at this festival was phenomenal.
Did you always train to be an artist? What does art mean to you?
I have done post graduation in chemistry and had not trained to become an artist. But right from my childhood I was inclined towards painting and drawing. My mother was very supportive and encouraged me in my creative pursuits. Art for me an expression of myself and the me-time that I spent doing what I am passionate about.
What has been your most memorable artistic experience to date?
That would be when I participated in the ArtShopping Expo exhibition in Louvre, Paris in 2019. I received an amazing response from art lovers, fellow painters, curators and art critics for my paintings.
Where are the challenges in keeping this art form alive and what are your own professional plans?
Traditional Phad cloth is about five meters of scroll which is not affordable for most buyers. It is also difficult to display it, so now it is available in smaller sizes. To keep this tradition alive is our responsibility. I do it by practising the art, by teaching it to the younger generations and also by supporting local craftsmen by buying phad art. As today there are several cheaper options for art available people tend to sway towards them forgetting that such handmade art represents our valuable culture. So, in future I plan to tie-up with craftsmen, who engage in handmade traditional crafts to help them sustain their skills and livelihood.
Take us through a day in your life?
My day is almost the same, follows a routine, except when I am travelling, sounds quite boring but I like it that way. I wake up early around 4: 45 am to walk my dog, to do yoga and pranayama. Besides cooking I love gardening along with my cat and dog pottering around. I have also recently started learning Hindustani classical music, so I practice that every day religiously and of course painting on phad is the most essential part of my day.
‘Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale’ was coined by the man who gave the world some of the most iconic stories of our times. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, published 169 fairy tales in his lifetime, and gave us the fascinating tales of The Ugly Duckling, Wild Swans, The Tinder Box, Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and many more. Each story comes with a metaphor and has life lessons that are relevant even today. From The Ugly Duckling we learn about the pain of rejection, bullying and eventually self acceptance. The Little Mermaid opens our eyes about the pitfalls of making deals. The Emperor’s New Clothes exposes the king’s vanity and his hypocrisy.
Paying ode to Andersen’s fairy tales is a two month long exhibition titled Worlds from the Imagination at the Sharjah Art Museum. Hosted in collaboration with the UAE Board on Books For Young People (UAEBBY) the exhibition runs till 30th May. On display are artistic replicas of characters and settings from his stories with interactive quotes and pop-ups.
A few tomes on Palestinian embroidery are placed strategically across the long table. I open one of them, a page where a pink slip was used as a bookmark, the headline here reads – ‘Embroidery under military occupation’.
mid-afternoon and as I sit leafing through the book, the other chairs in the
conference room of Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, slowly fill in with a diverse
group of enthusiastic women, who like me had signed up a few days ago for this
Palestinian tatreez embroidery workshop with artist Joanna Barakat.
Jerusalem, Joanna’s family moved to the United States when she was only a year
old. So, according to her tatreez (Arabic for embroidery) was part of her
growing up years only in the form of nostalgia sewn on cushion covers at home. Yet
for people in Palestine, tatreez was one of the finest art forms intrinsic to
village life, passed on through generations. During war and displacement it
took on a new meaning as women kept it alive in refugee camps. The creativity
of the art form provided a calming effect to them. It was also used as a weapon
against the occupation when embroiders stitched motifs of the Palestinian flag
Joanna, who is also the co-founder of The Tatreez Circle in the UAE, begins her workshop with a presentation on tatreez styles across Palestine before 1948. Each region, it seems had a distinctive embroidery pattern. In Bethlehem embroiders used to follow a unique couching format. As the area had several traders and merchants, their embroidery styles reflected the influence they carried from their travels. The region was synonymous with heavy embroidery on long sleeves and geometric patterns woven on silk wedding dresses called Malak.
On the other hand Ramallah was well-known for the cross stitch embroidery pattern. Dresses from this region were sewn with a wine-red cross stitch. Jerusalem interestingly had both couching and cross-stitch tatreez patterns.
The designs depicted the socio-economic status of the people and the motifs they sewed were influenced by their daily life. Famous for their native oranges, embroiders in Jaffa, for instance, stitched orange blossom patterns. Natural dyes using indigo were woven on dresses to ward off the evil eye. The hems of long dresses worn by Bedouin women were stitched with dark blue embroidery. If they remarried they added bursts of red along with the blue to showcase joy back in their lives.
Post the historic Nakba in 1948, however, these distinct embroidery styles became a mishmash of patterns drawn from each region to become universally known as Palestinian tatreez.
This informative presentation was followed by the actual workshop that involved some real stitching and sewing. Each participant was given a kit with a needle, a meshed cloth and a tatreez pattern. The goal was to learn to sew a cypress tree motif from either — the Hebron style, Beersheba, Gaza, Ramallah or Jaffa areas.
Joanna showed us that to maintain an easy grip on the thread the length of the yarn should be only as long as one’s hand. She quickly measured a red thread and effortlessly put it through the needle and showed us a simple cross stitch pattern. We could choose a style we wanted to follow and stitch on.
Only it wasn’t as easy as it looked. As women around me were sewing cypress trees with their nimble fingers I was still struggling to put the thread through the eye of the needle. Exasperated after a few failed attempts I took the assistance of the skilled lady next to me. Then funnily enough went on to sew a motif that nowhere resembled the ones synonymous to Palestine. Amused at her errant student Joanna readily offered to resew it so that I could start afresh. In reality the most fitting outcome of the workshop for me was not stitching the embroidery but going back richer with insights on the tradition and history of tatreez.
Driving through the scenic roads of Fujairah on family holidays Sadaqat Pervaiz often stopped enroute to admire the historic Al Bidiya Mosque. The diminutive rock and mud structure known as the oldest existing house of worship in the emirates held a special place in his heart. Over the years he captured its rustic charm by clicking innumerable pictures till the artist in him decided to pay the ultimate ode to his muse with strokes of paint on a canvas.
The allure of portraying a slice of the bygone era through his art led him to paint a number of historical sites of the UAE. Curated as part of his Heritage Collection these paintings will be showcased in his upcoming solo art exhibition – Back to Basics – at Gallery 76 in Dubai International Art Centre from June 22 to 29, 2019. Forty incredible artworks from Sadaqat’s collection will be on display. Besides Al Bidiya five other heritage sites are part of the exhibition. These include the Al Bastakiya Mosque, which was first established at the end of the 19th century by textile and pearl merchants, the Al-Hayl Castle, once used as the headquarters for Fujairah’s ruling family, Al Jazirah Al Hamra — an old abandoned town in Ras Al Khaimah considered by experts to be one of the best places to study traditional coral-stone architecture, the Khor Kalba Village and the iconic RAF Sharjah
Well known as a celebrated landscape artist in his native Pakistan, Sadaqat has lived in the UAE for over two decades. A deep appreciation of the local culture and the untouched nature of the historical sites of the UAE inspired Sadaqat to paint them. “It was almost like stepping back in time and that feeling is what I hoped to convey through my paintings. There is no shortage of inspiration in the UAE as all the seven emirates have a wealth of historic sites.”
He believes in using art as a form of documentation to preserve culture and history. “History is a bridge to the past and art is a bridge to connecting with people. Both leave you feeling like you have learned something valuable with a new appreciation and outlook towards life,” says Sadaqat.
Photography is an integral part of his artistic process. “Often the journey begins when I hear about a site from someone or find it over the Internet. After I drive to the location, I carefully examine the details and take several shots of the forts and castles from different angles. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to most of the places do not have conditions that permit one to paint on site. So, the photos I click become the premise for most of my paintings,” he says.
Through his art he hopes to draw attention to the incredible historical restoration work done in the UAE. Most of all, he wants to ignite a desire in people to visit some of these locations, to learn more about them and then share their experiences.
Born in 1956 in Wazirabad, Pakistan, Sadaqat grew up in an art inspired environment. His father, a government officer, was also a water colour artist. This early encouragement led him to pursue a formal art education in the National College of Arts in Lahore. Under the mentorship of a famous landscape artist Sadaqat developed a distinct personal style.
But family circumstances paved way for him to move to Sharjah in 1991. Soon after he took on the job of an art director at the Expo Centre in Sharjah. For the next 18 years he spear headed the formation of the company’s first art department. It was only when both his children completed their education he felt it was time to go back to art.
Water colours and oil paints are his preferred medium today. “Sometimes I like to experiment with charcoals, chalk and coloured paper. But most of my landscapes are in water colour and some of my portraits are in charcoal and chalk,” he points out.
Back to Basics is Sadaqat’s first solo exhibition in Dubaiat DIAC from June 22 to 29, 2019.
Bold illustrations showcasing contemporary and culturally-inspired designs is the forte of Emirati artist Khalid Mezaina’s work. Centered around local traditions his art largely includes hand-drawn elements. He has a Bachelor’s degree in visual communication from American University of Sharjah and a Master’s in textiles from Rhode Island School of Design, USA. Khalid is an independent artist, illustrator and graphic designer, who has participated in several exhibitions and has some iconic projects to his credit. In 2016, he was commissioned by ADMAF (Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation) to create a series of illustrations called cafeterias of the UAE, depicting a slice of the vibrant shawarma shops and cafeteria culture in the emirates. At Jam Jar, in Al Serkal Avenue, he presented a project on talismans. With Sharjah Art Foundation he curated a workshop called Tapestries exploring the trends and history of tapestries in Sharjah’s old textile souk. From illustrating the walls of a music store in a mall to his textile project on wearable capes Khalid’s artistic vision is diverse and deeply personal.
At the recent Ramadan Flow Talk series Khalid shared his work and his thoughts on what went behind their creation. Here is an excerpt from the interview he gave me for middleeastmasala.
What does art mean to you?
I think art is about having something to say and also speaking to anyone out there that shares the same sentiments as you.
How would you describe your style of work?
I would describe my style of work as illustrative. I illustrate things that I see, things that interest me or things that I would like to talk about.
Is there a common artistic thread that we can find in your designs?
I like to incorporate something hand drawn in all my work. Everything starts as a hand drawing which is then scanned and enhanced digitally. Be it an artwork for exhibition purpose, a design for a pattern layout, or work for a client — everything starts with a hand drawing in my sketchbook.
Do you feel it’s time we broke stereotypical representations of the region in art — for instance the overuse of lanterns and camels?
There is a common tendency to appropriate or recycle stereotypical visuals to depict the region. For it to be less predictable, I think the challenge is figuring out a way to use these common motifs and imagery in a fresh way. I personally do not mind the use of certain imagery that is a direct representation of the culture or region we’re in. I just think what makes something stand out is not copying something that’s already been done before.
How do you represent iconic cultural motifs of the Emirates through your art?
I create work that represents my experiences of belonging to the Emirates. I try to create visuals that are contemporary and relevant to the times so that my work does not look redundant or appear to be similar to what something someone has seen before. Artists do tend to fall in this trap where they use certain motifs the same way. I hope my use of cultural motifs represent a different perspective that is based on my understanding of what it means to be from the Emirates, which can be a unique take compared to others.
Take us through the journey of documenting the designing of the ‘cafeterias of the UAE’ project that you did for Abu Dhabi Music and Art foundation in 2016. ‘Cafeterias of the UAE’ was an illustration series for ADMAF’s 2016 exhibition ‘Portrait of a Nation’. The exhibit showcased different perspectives of the United Arab Emirates through the works of the selected artists. I thought a perfect idea to represent the Emirates was through the cafeterias found all over the country. Emiratis, expats and everyone in between flock to these cafeterias daily for an affordable sandwich, a humorously titled juice, or a plastic cup of sugared, steaming hot chai. These cafeterias are iconic structures in the UAE’s cultural and urban landscape. The final result was a series of six illustrated cafeterias that caught my attention as I drove around finding them.
What are your favourite cafeterias in town — any childhood memories that make them special?
I do not have a favourite cafeteria. But the word cafeteria instantly brings a flood of memories from high school and university days, when my friends and I would walk or drive to one close by after classes, to get a quick (affordable) bite to eat and chat together.
What are your current projects?
In the lead up to summer, I am trying to take things easy. It has been a year since I moved back home after completing my master’s and I have been mainly occupied with commissioned work and client based projects. Now I would like to be playful in the studio to experiment and work on projects for myself. I am currently completing a couple of client based illustrations including a mini comic with a friend. I am also scheduled to teach a series of workshops for young creatives at Tashkeel and Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and at Warehouse 421 in Abu Dhabi.
Lastly, what do you want people to take away from your art?
Honestly, at the end of the day, I hope the audience would relate to my work in some way. I hope it would make people connect to the stories or narratives conveyed through them, they would relate to the messages shared, and feel happy and positive.
Syrian artist Majd Kurdieh was forced to flee his homeland and now lives in Lebanon. This displacement and the current volatile political situation of his country has deeply impacted him. His art, a creative expression of his thoughts, features tiny cartoon-like characters he calls Fasaeen. Stealing Sadness, his latest exhibition at The Workshop, on Al Wasl Road, depicts these tiny characters on a quest to steal sadness from the world and in turn spread a lot of happiness. Kurdieh created this group of characters inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Kalilah Wa Dimna, the Arabic translation of Panchatantra and from the old poets of pre-Islamic preriod.
The Fasaeen include Fasoon and Fasooneh, a boy and a girl, smaller than cherry blossom, always smiling. The Elephant, who gives everything and never listens to anyone, and therefore became very large, the butterfly — the symbol of the gang, the fish – who is bored of living in water, the snail – on whose back everyone takes a ride so that the happy moments pass slowly and the donkey, the dove, the rat, the horse and the wolf.
Majd also exhibited at Art Bahrain 2018 and Sikka Art Fair 2018. His current exhibition at Fann A Porter at The Workshop, that runs till April 12 features a new series called Fasaeen and the Very Scary Butterfly Gang.
This series include the canvas of the giant whale with sad eyes, a large tear seems ready to drop from his giant eyes.
The Snails carrying characters on their back. Majd titles this as “I am actually not different from them all, except just alas fatigued by this journey”.
This one he titles, “Can the moon ever be concealed, can the moon ever be convert, can the moon ever be unobserved”.
Four of his characters ride on the butterfly accompanied with a verse that says “Life is a butterfly, each one of us is standing on her wings… we meet up and depart and meet again… ”
Majd’s art is endearing and his characters have universal appeal. There is indeed a lot of sadness in the world and the colourful Fasaeen characters touched a deep happy chord inside me.
Majd says, “Fasaeen… realistic slaps coated with dreamy kisses… theatrical characters that appear on the austere whiteness of the painting where they tell their story and run away as if they belong to the Tramps… the talking animals are an extension to the conversation between the poets and their horses and wolves…I tried to be visually aesthetic as much as I could… when I found myself an immigrant who cannot carry many colours and lines… the heavy suitcases burden the wings of the swallow… yellow and blue… are my everlasting nostalgia for a land on the banks of the Euphrates… merely scattered thoughts that resemble what I did. In the time of war I did not try to present death and destruction as an aesthetic case; I have rather tried to reconstruct the beauty of the souls that ugliness destroyed.”
Looking forward to more of Majd’s playful artistic characters. The Workshop was yet another find, this aesthetic hub has an innovative gift shop, an art gallery and a lovely cafe.
One of India’s prominent dance forms is Kathak. Derived from the word katha meaning story this dance form is a beautiful blend of story telling and Hindustani classical music. This decades old traditional dance is kept alive in the UAE by Ketaki Hazra. Her Dubai-based dance school presents the yearly musical event — Nrityanjali. The cultural show held in October was a two part series performed by dancers of varied age groups. There were several performances in the classical style with emphasis on foot work. Students performed compositions from creators such as Rabindranath Tagore, Meera Bai, Nazrul Islam and Jayadev among others.
Here is a shot from Shiv Stuti performed by Farah Shams, Megha Rajeevan and Neelanchana Kumar. The dance is an ode to Lord Shiva, the Nataraj — ruler of all dance, celestial and earthy.
The lanes around Al Ghurair centre, Deira, have come alive with striking wall graffiti, colourful installations and interesting stalls as part of the STREETCON (Street Art Connection). The festival showcases street artists, photographers and musicians. We enjoyed an evening listening to live music, exploring the stalls and posing for pictures along the bright walls. As the event is spread across various locations around the mall we were only able to see a portion of it. The first visuals that caught my eye were these stunning close ups of cats. The photo series is titled, Stray and is by Jandri Angelo Aguilor. It attempts to bring out the artist’s yearning to own a cat, which he cannot because his tiny bed space does not permit him to.
Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra uses bright colours and bold lines to create kaleidoscopic art. His installations are usually huge and spread across a building. We spotted one here.
Along the inner road of the mall there are also several stalls displaying variety of art forms. Explore vintage posters, paper art and handmade toys. We were particularly intrigued by the Dubai Moving Image Museum stall. This unique museum is located in Tecom and claims to be one of a kind in the world. The stall showcased traditional animation equipment, books, cards and optical toys.
The entire street was a visual treat with local graffiti artists spray painting the walls, musicians jamming on stage and skateboarders skilfully manoeuvring their boards mid air. We hope to see the Miracoco Luminarium, the box art exhibit, bike art and the doodle wall in the weekend. Ending the post with this beautiful image of lamps.