JEDDAH: Every Jeddawi has an obsession with their city; the elderly reminisce about historic Jeddah in the old days, while the youth romanticize the modern city through photography and social media.
One Saudi artist, Zaina Hassan, 23, who goes by the name ZHA on social media, chose to express her attachment to Jeddah by reimagining it through ’80s pop art.
“To many of us, Jeddah is a city too familiar for words, for beautiful odes and formal praise. Yet, the love and belonging we feel toward it are very real and deserve to be illuminated,” she told Arab News.
She added: “My deep affection toward the city only grew while I was away, and all its beauty that was previously hidden in plain sight became visible to me in my nostalgia.”
The artist has completed eight pieces; the first artwork, shared on Instagram is called “Show You the World” and portrays two people walking toward the Globe Roundabout in northern Jeddah.
“This piece is dedicated to people who dream of seeing the world but find themselves stuck in one place. A gentle reminder that there is much to see and feel, even without getting on a plane and traveling thousands of kilometers,” she said.
The other pieces follow the same idea, where the location reflects certain feelings or emotions of the characters in the artwork.
“Deep Blue” is an artwork that portrays a girl walking along the new Corniche with the sea as her background. “It speaks of moments when you feel melancholic or blue for reasons unknown to you,” Hassan said.
“Rosie” is another artwork that shows a couple standing together lovingly, with the old Saudi airplane monument behind them. The monument symbolizes how every relationship is a journey, she added.
Hassan chose ’80s pop art as her medium because it combines youthful content with a vintage appearance, which she is very fond of.
“For the love of everything vintage. Comic book art or ’80s pop art has a nostalgic yet youthful and modern look to it, so it was the perfect artistic style to merge the old with the new.”
The artist began sharing her work on Instagram during the difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
“I first thought of the theme behind the first few pieces in the midst of the COVID-19 avalanche, when isolation and uncertainty were still unexplored territories to most of us; the main incentive behind the theme was homesickness,” Hassan added.
She said it was not artwork by other artists that inspired her, but things from her daily life such as songs, movies and stories.
“I found that listening to certain songs inspires me so much more vividly than looking at or studying actual art pieces. Obviously, comic book illustrators have inspired me enough to use this specific style and guided me with regard to colors and composition, but I believe that the real inspiration behind my artworks’ ideas come from songs, as well as movie scenes, pictures and stories,” she said.
“Basically, anything that is able to transport you to an alternative reality for a period of time. So many things inspire me and influence me daily, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact source.”
Hassan said the illustrations were figments, romanticizing the streets people know well, but they exposed the genuine fondness Jeddawis carry in their hearts for this coastal city.
To many people, she said, the landmarks portrayed in Hassan’s artworks carry many memories of their youth — their favorite childhood place, where they used to hang out in their teenage years, or even a place they used to pass by on their way to their loved ones’ old houses. “It’s amazing how memories connect people to places on such a deep level.”
The main theme of her collection is not solely romantic as much as it is soulful, and it encompasses romance, friendship, adventure, and even melancholy.