Inspired by the Middle East: Art show wows London crowd

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’Sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’ by Pippa Thew.
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'The Sea (Horizon)' by Vaseem Mohammed.
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A piece by Bahraini artist Mariam Fakhro.
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'Dream of a Talismanic Shirt' by artist Elisabeth Bolza.
Updated 16 October 2017
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Inspired by the Middle East: Art show wows London crowd

LONDON: Middle Eastern influences were the binding element in the work of four artists displayed at the Janet Rady Fine Art exhibition held at the Arab British Chamber of Commerce in London last week.
Rady is a specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East and has 30 years of experience in the international market. She worked on the Art Bahrain Across Borders project (ArtBAB) and is the curator of the “I AM” touring exhibition of 31 women artists from the Middle East, currently on show at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington.
One of the artists showcased at the event on Oct. 12, whose work also features in “I AM,” was the well-established Bahraini artist Mariam Fakhro.
Rady gave Arab News insight into her work.
“Fakhro is very attached to the heritage of her Bahraini background. She is painting traditional houses, which Bahrain is fortunate enough to still have in existence. She talks about how the home is the heartland. For her, it represents her family, her homeland, her background and her security. Her work can be understood by everyone.”
Artist Vaseem Mohammed, who was present at the exhibition, showed off some wonderful examples of his work, including a piece entitled “The Sea (Horizon).” The piece features an inscription reading: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” At the center of the work lies a beautiful seam of gold, which seems to be suspended between the sea and the sky. When asked about the work, Mohammed explained that it was his tribute to the children who were killed in 2014 when an Israeli missile exploded on a beach in Gaza where they were playing. He said the gold represents their souls ascending to heaven.
Visual artist Abu Jafar said he appreciated the beautiful soft shades of blue, which he believes conveys the particular color of the sky near the sea in the Middle East — a color that he says is different to blue skies in French or British paintings.
“The artist has succeeded in creating a poem with this piece,” he said.
Another piece by Mohammed that attracted a lot of attention was entitled “The Pinnacle (Moon Splits),” painted in 2017.
Art enthusiast Marie-Aimee Fattouche of Egyptian-Lebanese heritage gave her opinion on the piece.
“For me, what I like about this piece is that the scene looks familiar. I have a sense of home while looking at it. It reminds me of a night stroll… in Morocco or Egypt. This gives a sense of the light that shines at night when you walk through the deserted streets — the time between the end of the busy nightlife period and just before the city awakens again.”
Speaking about his work, Mohammed said: “My paintings share an expression of isolation while representing a global community. This is an expression of my own feelings of isolation among the Western and Islamic communities.
“I have two distinct styles of which one uses calligraphy at the heart of the piece, juxtaposed on top of modernist, abstract style work. I would describe the calligraphy as a representation of Islam’s stability and presence in an ever-changing world.
“I also draw from my childhood experience of living in the East End of London in the 1970s. That’s what inspires me; I liked dilapidation, paint peeling off and things like that. In my parents’ house, which was more than 100 years old, I used to peel off the wallpaper and there were decades of wallpaper underneath. Subconsciously, I started using that in my work.”
Artist Pippa Thew, who was born in Kenya and now lives in Devon in the UK, has strong connections with the Middle East. She described her first introduction to the Gulf region in a conversation with Arab News.
“My connection with the Middle East started when I had a solo exhibition in Abu Dhabi. I was very fortunate as I was invited out to the royal stables by a granddaughter of the President of the UAE Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
“She invited me to see her racing horses and a stallion and I began to paint the horses. I was also very fortunate to become very good friends with a lot of Emirati people. I do a lot of portraits of my clients and their families, which is something I love to do.
“I love the Middle East, its culture and its people. I think it is a beautiful and fascinating place,” she said.
Thew’s paintings on show included “Sultan and Arabian Stallion Fayed” and “Sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.”
“We were coming back on a yacht and it was a beautiful September evening and very hot. The light was catching across the mosque and I just had to paint it,” she said.
Also featured in the exhibition was the artist Elisabeth Bolza, who has, for many years, studied Islamic arts and civilization. Since 2014, she has spent extended periods of time in Saudi Arabia studying its heritage and that of other countries in the region.
She was nominated for the Jameel Prize 2017 and is currently preparing a major exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum due to open on Jan. 20, 2018.
Her work “Dream of a Talismanic Shirt, 2010” was greatly admired by exhibition visitor and video producer Khalil Itani. His company, Visual Story, has covered many major Middle East art exhibitions and independent artist shows. He has a keen eye, developed over many years of training his lens on a wide range of art works.
Commenting on the piece, he said: “The balance of colors is wonderful and this represents mixed media creativity at its best. The combination of colors is subtle and I like the calligraphy — I like the layers and Islamic-Arabian influence in it.”
Rady was asked about the criteria she uses when selecting work for exhibitions, to which she replied: “First and foremost, I look at the art. Which country the artists come from is not relevant. When I am curating an exhibition, I am intent solely on showing superb artists.”


Muse: Singer-songwriter Gaya talks storytelling and creativity

Updated 2 min 4 sec ago
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Muse: Singer-songwriter Gaya talks storytelling and creativity

DUBAI: Dubai-based singer-songwriter, vlogger and content creator Gaya (Gayathri Krishnan) talks storytelling, creativity, and experimentation in a conversation with Arab News.

If you want your voice heard, build your own microphone, your own channel, your own soapbox. When you’re young you feel like the world owes you a stage, a chance, a shot. But with time you realize that the dream opportunity, whatever it is, the surest way to get there is to create that opportunity for yourself.

Music inspires me to do most things in my life. It really sets the tone for everything I do and I am. My exploration as a creative person started with music, but over time it has taken me into the spaces of film and design. Whatever the medium, though, a need to be creative and tell a story is what drives me.

Getting into the vlogging space has been extremely rewarding as it has a semblance of the immediacy that a live performance has; you’re connecting with people in real time and you’re breaking the third wall and putting yourself out there. The space feels familiar to me and brings together all my loves — music, shooting and editing films, and telling stories.

I don’t see my work as separate from my life or who I am. It is a very intrinsic part of my existence, so being creative is something I’m engaged in most of the time. I’m proud of having figured out how to make a living by doing all the things that I love and not having to limit myself to doing only one thing or being only one thing.

A lot of my work is autobiographical to some degree. It gives me great joy to be able to have a record of my life and be able to stay present in the moment through the pursuit of my work. I love that I am the boss of my own time and have the privilege and pleasure of working for myself. Most of all, I love that the intent of any idea that I work on is to be able to connect with people on an emotional level.

Every time I travel, I feel like I’m getting to live an alternate reality. I try to have an experience as close to a local as possible, making sure to carve out days to do the mundane things I would do in my own city. This really feeds my creative process in so many ways and many unfinished songs have been completed during my travels. I love traveling for extended periods of time as opposed to short trips because I feel like the best songs and writing come from that pivot point between comfort and discomfort. And when I travel, that oscillation is constant and really gets my creative juices flowing.

I move from project to project with a certain level of uninhibitedness. This somehow leads people to believe that everything I do is locked into some of kind of well-thought out strategy, but in reality every day is pretty much an experiment.

The biggest influence on me as a person has been watching my parents’ love and appreciation for music while I was growing up. Their ability to take anything we were listening to and appreciate every note, every nuance, every instrument, the timbre of the singer’s voice… It was a masterclass in music appreciation. It taught me and my siblings at an early age about the value of art and creativity in the world and how much of a two-way street it is: That as much as one must create for oneself, a perceptive audience is an essential part of any art form made for public consumption.

I admire any artist who isn’t afraid of going against what they set out to do when they started. I think the biggest disservice you can do to yourself as an artist is to say, “I do this one thing.” As great as it is to have a signature style that distinguishes you, it also important to not let it box you in.

My husband is also my music producer. In our relationship, the music came before the love and the marriage, so music has sort of been the cupid in our story. I think what makes it work is that I have always felt an immense sense of trust with him as a producer; that he too, wants the best for these songs. So when we’re both setting out with the same intention, everything else is gravy. We have learned to communicate well with each other and are able to both stand our ground, have both our voices heard and still love each other no matter how heated the creative arguments may get.

There’s still such conditioning around what a woman ought to be and what her role is, and it’s the root of so many problems. “Ambition” in a woman, for example, is seen firstly as something that needs to be talked about or pin-pointed and secondly, and most annoyingly, as some kind of negative, cut-throat thing; a quality that shouldn’t be possessed by women. I’m hoping to continue to voice my opinion when I feel like I’m being boxed into some archaic idea of what a woman ought to be.

A lot of men seem to be shaken and a bit confused about how they figure in a world where women are demanding their rightful place in various spheres. Very few men are happy to engage in a dialogue about this without feeling like we are on opposite sides of the table, but by getting involved they can help move the needle as opposed to drawing more lines in the sand. We need to get on the same page to actually move forward.