DHAHRAN: Visitors to the first-ever Saudi Feast Food Festival in Riyadh are in for a special treat as they have a chance to purchase freshly-created merch by Jeddah-based artist Ethar Balkhair.
Balkhair is no stranger to representing Saudi culture in her work. The Dar Al-Hekma University graduate has collaborated with international brands for years including Sephora and Nivea, and TUMI and TUDOR, while always maintaining her Saudi-centric esthetic and contemporary style.
Her illustrations use saturated color and bold forms to convey a story and a narrative that transcends the page. Her digital drawings usually include men and women without clear facial features so that the illustrations become more inclusive and a better representation of the diversity of the Kingdom and its people.
“The Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission contacted me to collaborate on the first Saudi Feast Food Festival event — which is a big deal. I started creating a concept based on their event, which includes foods from northern and southern Saudi — basically foods from all over the country. My illustrations were all inspired by Saudi foods from the different regions.”
“They told me ‘we want you to do the merch with your illustrations.’ The idea was to then place them anywhere — on t-shirts, anything. Usually, my art presents cultural elements but in a very contemporary way. The ministry is now going in a more contemporary direction,” Balkhair told Arab News.
Aprons, notebooks, hoodies and t-shirts are available at the shop at the festival.
While Balkhair admits to being a “better eater than cook,” she appreciated how the festival allowed her to make customers feel like each batch was fresh to order and made by hand.
“A printing company is there at the festival with a silkscreen and they will print my illustration in front of you. You pick your size and the colors you want and in 10 minutes, you’ll get it,” Balkhair told Arab News.
Although she is active on Instagram @ethartariq_art, her account is fully dedicated to her art and thus she was able to stealthily lurk in the background and witness the whole scene unfold, undetected.
Witnessing customers giddy with excitement with their freshly-printed t-shirt inspired her to make a shift.
In the coming year, the soft-spoken Balkhair hopes to do more in-person collaborations and engage more with art lovers to expand her scope beyond her digital screen.
“I loved seeing people reacting to my work. I was honestly so happy when I attended the first day, people were happy and reacting like ‘ooh!’ It was my first time to get a reaction without them knowing I was there and nobody was trying to flatter me. Nobody even knew I was watching them from afar. It was very nice and it gave me so much confidence,” Balkhair said.
The items are only currently available hot off the press at the festival, which ends on Dec. 29.
For more information on the Culinary Arts Commission, visit their official website at culinary.com.gov.sa. For more on Balkhair’s work, visit her website at https://byethar.com.