JEDDAH: The Saudi contemporary artist on curiosity, discipline, and the universality of art.
What I love about traditional Islamic art is that the underlying core — the language and geometry — transcends borders, it’s the same visual language used from China across the world to Spain, so it has a very unifying quality.
People who’ve never met me and look at my early works, which were more specifically looking at sacred art, think I’m calm and collected — especially since I work with such intricate details — but in actuality I’m the total opposite. I’m all over the place and scattered, but my art brings me peace and is my therapy. Focusing on art calms me down. I’m just like every other person going through everyday life, trying to find peace in this world.
As an artist, I’m always curious, always wanting to know more and because of this inquisition, you go through a constant evolution. I’m my own worst critic. I push myself very hard, but I’m very happy with my progress.
A journalist once approached me at an exhibition and, when he realized I wasn’t speaking fluent Arabic, used me as an example of why you shouldn’t send Saudi girls to study abroad. That infuriated me. I was really offended. I am who I am because I’ve lived and studied abroad.
I speak a universal language. Even if you don’t understand it, you can always appreciate its beauty. I believe in the beauty of art.
I have faced creative blocks. I have the form and I know the medium but I’m lost as to how I want to use it. Or vice-versa — I know what I want to say but I’m constantly at a loss as to how to say it. Speaking to other artists or curators can help, but I usually rely on my artistic intuition and research… visiting galleries and being with nature. Sometimes, I just have to wait it out and try to be proactive and not too hard on myself.
Being an artist requires discipline. You’re basically self-employed. You need to be committed; put in enough time for the work, invest in an education, be constantly present in your work. Being an artist is a lifestyle. It’s not a job.