Razan Almohasen: Fitting stars into her pocket

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Updated 23 February 2016

Razan Almohasen: Fitting stars into her pocket

For someone like Razan Adel Almohasen who has always been intrigued by and interested in art, her creative radar is permanently on. Even at what she phrased as “26 years young,” she still remembers art classes from her elementary school days as well as the projects she worked on. Although she was born and raised in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Almohasen attended Naseem International School in Bahrain for her middle and high school education. When it came time to attend university, Almohasen chose to study in the United States where she earned a degree in Digital Media Arts from the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, California. Moving from southern California to the north, this Saudi artist is currently pursuing a Master in Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute.
As children often do, they share tall tales. When Almohasen was a child, her friend told her about watching a star fall from the sky unto a street near the local supermarket. Awe-stricken Almohasen immediately thought of how foolish her friend was for not taking the star with her. She envied her friend and wished she had witnessed this event instead, for she would not have wasted that opportunity, “I wouldn’t have missed that and I would have grabbed it for sure! So, I actually believed that stars could fit in your pocket.” This story led to forming a way of life for the budding artist. With this in mind, Almohasen has been reaching for stars ever since.
Although her work has not been exhibited in art shows outside of her schools, she is very enthusiastic about exhibiting in art galleries in the near future. Razan Almohasen paintings are poignant with a dash of quirkiness. Her installations are powerful and clever, and her digital art is inventive as well as complex. Her perspective is fresh and unique and generally focuses on positivity, nonconformity, imagination and sparkle. Almohasen shared with Arab News what inspires her, her reflections on Saudi art, and gives insight into her creative process and her philosophy.

What inspires you? In other words, what can initiate your creative process?
Many things in my daily life can trigger my creative process. It could be from something I see on my daily walks and my interaction with my surroundings. Or it could be from watching a movie, or reading the news. And finally, of course looking at other artists’ work is always an inspiration.

Your work can be intricate and intense like with your digital art and installations, and your paintings and photography are uncomplicated and whimsical, which medium do you feel allows you to create most freely?
I enjoy taking bits and pieces from my thoughts that are gathered from my external space and mix it with my internal world to create a project. I do not have a specific comfortable medium, I like to challenge myself by using different mediums to have a wide variety of choices before completing the project, and then choose the one that I feel is more compatible with the “final” idea. For example, I could start a project with a photograph, but it ends up being a soft sculpture installation; the project could take different ground.
Who has been your biggest supporter; describe your support system?
Of course my parents have always been my backbone, supporting my dreams. However, in the past year or so, my fiancé has been running the clock, jumping through hoops of ideas with me, and constantly pushing me to execute more and more projects.

What are your thoughts on Saudi artistic community, and more specifically (as a Saudi woman and artist) on women’s presence in it?
I grow more and more impressed with what the Saudi artists have been doing and accomplishing. There is a great art movement happening, especially with the involvement of social media, you could become your own curator.

Do you have advice for anyone considering following an artistic academic or career path?
Community is built on individuals, and I find it important that each individual works hard and stays focused on what makes them happy. It is necessary to have a unique perspective, so that we can have a diverse cultural environment. My motto is: You can fit stars in your pocket!
With one hand reaching for the sky and the other making space for stars in her pocket, Razan Almohasen is set on her path with her own distinctive vision as her navigation. Her pieces are available to view on her Behance account (https://www.behance.net/Razancoco) or by searching her name. Also, her Instagram account (@rizz.coco) is a plethora of her original and brilliant work. A glimpse into her world is worth your while.

Email: [email protected]

Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

Updated 18 September 2018

Musical truth: Palestinian singer Maysa Daw blends the personal with the political

  • Maysa Daw is a young Palestinian singer
  • A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy

DUBAI: Maysa Daw is a hard person to pin down. The young Palestinian singer has been busy dashing from gig to gig, completing an album and preparing to participate in a musical collaboration called the Basel-Ramallah Project, which is due to take place in Switzerland on Oct. 6. When we meet, she is in Chicago, about to go on stage at Palipalooza.

“We’ve been working on our solo show and I’m trying to write a few new songs but time isn’t exactly on my side at the moment,” she said with a laugh. “But writing always comes in-between things, you know. I’m always having these new ideas and I write them down, or new melodies and I write them down. At some point I’ll just gather them together and a lot of things will come from there.”

A guitar-driven singer-songwriter, Daw is a bundle of indie energy. Her live performances are raw and honest, her music a primarily personal reaction to the world around her. As a Palestinian living inside the Green Line, this can sometimes mean a world of conflict and complication.

“I always write about what I’m experiencing, what I’m feeling, or the anger that I’m feeling,” said Daw, whose debut album “Between City Walls” was written while she was living in Jaffa.

“It was a very different world for me. I grew up in Haifa, which is a lot more chill, a lot more relaxed, and suddenly I move to Jaffa and study in Tel Aviv, and everything was so intense. Everything was so new. It produced a lot of stuff. Love songs, break-up songs — political songs, too.

“There’s also one of my favorite songs, “Crazy.” I was so frustrated when I started writing this song. I was thinking of so many things at the time and I just wrote everything down. It’s exactly the way I was feeling, the things that I was asking myself. It talks about religion, it talks about death, it talks about politics — it talks about a lot of things.”

“Between City Walls,” which was released in June last year, may be indie in its sensibilities but its eight songs embrace a variety of sounds, not all of which are musical. Alongside samples of classical Arabic songs and Spanish guitar there are bursts of radio static and live voice recordings of people in the West Bank. As such, reproducing the album on stage, with drummer Issa Khoury and bassist Shadi Awidat, has not been easy.

“We’ve been trying to put material for a five-piece band into a three-piece band,” said Daw. “As such, we’ve been using more electronics and it’s been a very interesting challenge for us. But it’s got us to a place that I’m definitely very happy with.”

Daw is very much a product of Haifa. Born into an artistic family — her father is the actor Salim Dau — she immersed herself in the city’s independent Arabic-music scene, performing at venues such as Kabareet and collaborating with Ministry of Dub-Key, a Galilean group that fuses the sounds of hip-hop and dancehall with traditional Palestinian dabke.

She also recently finished recording an album with Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, who she joined about five years ago. Due to be released early next year, the as-yet-untitled album is her first full-length collaboration with the group. Prior to this, Daw and DAM recorded two tracks together, including the feminism-infused “Who You Are.”

Although Daw’s work gravitates toward the personal, much of it also can be viewed as intrinsically political. The song “Come with Me,” for example, is about two lovers kept apart by the separation wall, while “Radio” features the voices of refugees living in the West Bank. In snippets of their conversations you can hear them talking about the wall, the effects it has on their lives and their desire to tear it down.

“I do talk about politics but only because it’s a big part of my life, whether I want it to be or not. And believe me, I don’t,” she said. “But it is a part of my life.

“I started loving music way before I even understood what politics is. I only wanted to make music but with time I understood more about the responsibility that I could accept to have.”

She paused and corrected herself: “Not exactly a responsibility but a sort of a privilege. I have this voice that I can use and it has the potential to reach a lot of people. It made me realize that I can use this to talk about things that many other people can’t talk about.”

Daw once said that despite the perceived mundanity of everyday events, “everything we do here as Arabs is connected to politics.” As such, there is a vein of resistance running through much of her work. She sings of love under occupation, equality, society and religion, with freedom the ultimate objective.

“A lot of the time I write for the purpose of trying to tell somebody something, or trying to express my opinion about something,” she said. “And sometimes I just feel this thing that’s blocking me, that I need to release in any way, and my way of releasing it is through music.

“Sometimes I release something just for myself. I write it, I turn it into a song and I don’t release it to the world, because sometimes some things are too private. I still do it, I still work on a song and I still do it in a way that I absolutely love the song, yet it will never be heard by anybody else.”

One song on her debut album is sung in English, titled “Live Free.”

“You know, when I started making music and writing my own songs I started writing in English,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it in Arabic. And at some point I realized that it was a little bit strange for me, because the whole personality of a person changes when you change language.

“I wanted to start writing in Arabic to see what it would bring, and it brought a very new side of me that I didn’t know. Everything was different: the melodies, the type of words I used, how I built sentences — something just clicked. Arabic feels a lot more like home when writing music.”