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.
Khalid blogs at http://khalidmezaina.blogspot.com/. His brand Krossbreed has a range of t-shirts, prints and stationary.