The home-grown talent talks to A&E about the inspiration behind the two-year project that’s just been unveiled in the capital.
Born and raised right here in the UAE, Ashwaq Abdulla is quickly becoming one of the most well-known artists within the region.
While her creativity and passion were clear to those around her from a young age, it was a huge-scale project that took place in Dubai in 2016 that really put her name on the maps when it comes to home-grown artists talent.
Three years ago, Abdulla teamed up with other female artists to take to streets in Satwa and turn them into an open-air, urban gallery. And now she has finally revealed the mammoth project that has kept her consumed for the last two years, and once again, it ties into her love for her home country but this time alongside the beauty within the unique wildlife and natural landscapes of the region.
On her latest project, Abdulla collaborated with Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas to create a one of kind artwork collection. Each piece celebrates the natural environment and wildlife that surrounds the hotel and the emirate, from the sandy beaches to the colourful flamingos running free.
The artworks are hanging in each room – the artist told us she went into each room one by one to sign every piece.
To celebrate the partnership an exhibition was held in order to auction off some of the stunning pieces away, with proceeds going to the Dar Al Ber Society, an organisation that has a number of charitable, developmentary and humanitarian projects.
The event was attended by the likes of Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, the Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development within the UAE.
As we talked to the energetic talent at her collection launch, she opened up on weaving her soul into the venue through her work, where she’s going next, and what her hopes are for the local arts scene.
What can you tell us about taking part in this project?
The hotel selected me for the project and when they asked me for a brief I started thinking about the location of the resort, it’s in Saadiyat, and that means nature, woodlands and that means special animals we have here in the wildlife. I started putting together ideas and I decided upon doing a concept to showcase what we have in Abu Dhabi in terms of the wildlife. We have a very special breed of flamingo here that nobody knows about and turtles, so it was a good opportunity to showcase all of that to the guests. Usually, guests when they arrive in any new country they would like to see something from the country they are visiting.
How did you decide on the techniques and colours for the paintings?
This was a challenge. Because when they reached out to me they had already decided on the colour and the interior. So then I had to work with the interior designers to match the colour schemes. When you control the artist like that, it’s very hard, so it was a challenge for me. Everything has to match the furniture. When it comes to the rooms, people need to relax and sleep, so we needed to go abstract and very detailed with the designs. At the same time as we are using animals in the paintings, we don’t want to scare people. You have to make it very simple and think about the texture and how you are going to showcase that.
Why was it an important project for you to be a part of?
First of all, very rarely when you got to a hotel or a resort will you see work by an Emirati artist. So this was the first reason. The second reason was that it was a challenge for me and I like a challenge in terms of the quantity. So we didn’t do a print. I came up with a plan to do a print for the outline and I did the embellishment for every single piece. About 350 pieces. And that’s why the project took two years. It was a long time, it was a journey.
What’s your favourite piece in this collection?
The dhows are something that is close to my heart because of my family, they care about dhows. Our grandad used to go to pearl diving, so we have a history with it. It’s my heritage as well as my local culture.
As an artist in the region, what are the challenges you face?
Lots of challenges to be honest. Firstly, we can’t have it as a career, only as a second career. People, still don’t buy art. For example, in our community, we don’t have this culture that if I’m going to visit someone the luxury gift I’m going to buy is a piece of art. No, we don’t have that, so we have this challenge. And people have started to understand by visiting exhibitions, but as for starting to buy works they like, this is still a challenge for us. I think it takes time. it’s much better than 10 years ago, but it takes time, step by step.
What do you think of the art scene in the region, and how would you like to see it grow?
I think we need to focus more on showcasing Emirati artists. Still, lots of people don’t know about the Emirati artists. We have a big group and community, but I think we need more support with exhibitions and showcases and we need to exchange culture from our side and show our techniques. We need to do more exchange with international artists.
When was the moment you realised you wanted to work within art?
My family noticed when I was around four years old that I played with colour a lot. So I started at a very young age… it was very, very clear to everybody. I remember when I was the first winner in a competition, I was seven years old. And I steered in this direction to focus more and more on art. I think it’s gifted to me, but this is the thing that happens when you’re gifted, you have to practice, and I kept doing art all these years.
Are there any pieces you look back on with pride?
Yes, I always remember that huge project. I was the first Emirati to do a mural in the UAE. It was a project in Dubai in 2016 at the open museum. It was a huge, a big challenge.
Which other artists inspire you?
Lots of people, much more than one to be honest. In history, each artist has a different style and approach. If I talk about Claude Monet he had a different style, but I was inspired by Monet when he did his abstract style. I am inspired by Gustav Klimt, the artist who did the kiss painting with all gold. You need to have a look, it’s very beautiful. He is an Austrian artist and he’s very famous for using gold leaf… I am into gold a lot recently. It has such a tie to the local history here, too.
The funds from the pieces sold at the Art For A Cause exhibition will go to charity, is that something that’s important to you?
It’s very important to link ourselves to that cause. People’s assumption is that art is just for luxury and just for a certain type of people, a very small community of people. But it’s not. You can do it and sell it, but things like this are to support and reach more people.
What in nature inspires you?
The beach, of course. The sea, especially here in the UAE. I spend lots of time there to clear my mind. And you know artists always get this block so I would take a break here [on the beach] just to refresh my mind and get inspired with ideas.
What do you want to achieve going forward?
I’m focusing more now on Islamic art because it’s very unique. We have different patterns and calligraphy and all of that, and this makes it very unique. Also, people are looking at modern art, so how to combine modern and classic art together. This is the challenge as well.
Are you reading a book at the moment?
I read a lot of history books. I think it’s important for the art pieces. Right now I’m doing research on Andrew Lucia and the heritage part of Spain when Islam was there, and they have very nice architecture. It’s very unique. I have a trip soon to go and see the Islamic art there to discover how I can get inspired by the design and implement it in my art.
What would you like people to remember about your work, and this project in particular?
It was amazing, it was a journey and I worked on the giant paintings for two years. All my soul is here. I feel it like it’s my second home I remember when I came here it was just columns, there was nothing here. So it’s really been a journey.