Palestinian Artist Reham Shaheen Discusses Finding Calm Through The Creative Process

Lindsay Judge   |   12-03-2024

Reham Shaheen is a self-taught artist who did not embark on a traditional artistic journey through formal education.

Instead, her artistic prowess comes from her passion for art and her natural ability, that flows effortlessly from her soul to the canvas. With roots grounded in the universe’s mysterious offerings, Reham found herself immersed in the realm of art, and she has since built a career from it. 

Growing up in Gaza, Palestine, she was inspired greatly by her surroundings and continues to promote emerging artists and talented creatives hailing from the Arab world. Her latest exhibition at RAW Coffee Company Dubai showcases some of her vibrant and unique artworks. We find out more.

Tell us about your passion for art and how it came to be a career.

My passion for art has always been an inherent part of me, but it truly manifested nearly a decade ago when I heeded the calling of my soul to express myself using pens on a blank canvas. This journey allowed my thoughts and feelings to flow freely through my hand, creating a tangible expression on the canvas. My artistic exploration was primarily fuelled by extensive reading on history, life, and philosophy, activating the passion within my mind. As a self-taught artist, I didn’t follow the conventional path of formal education in arts; instead, my natural ability seamlessly translated from my mind to the canvas, guided by the mysterious offerings of the universe.

How would you describe your signature art style?

I would characterise my artistic style as therapeutic, where the apparent chaos in my work holds a profound sense of peace, both for me as an artist and for those who view it upon completion. I’ve coined my style as “Mona-mnamat,” where every stroke embodies a dance of creativity, and each finished canvas serves as a connection with the unseen.

What is the biggest challenge you face being an artist today?

With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, I find that the primary challenge lies in nurturing creativity itself—seeking inspiration and determining the optimal moment to pause, reflect, and process thoughts before embarking on a new piece of art.

What is something you would still like to achieve?

I believe there is much more for me to accomplish as an artist in this lifetime. My goal is to be remembered and acknowledged solely for my art, nothing more.

How would you assess the arts industry in the Middle East?

Navigating the art scene today is indeed challenging, yet it holds tremendous potential. The Middle East boasts a rich and impressive artistic history dating back to its beginnings. To distinguish oneself in this vibrant environment requires dedicated effort—to either discover a unique style or to create pieces that contribute to or match the remarkable artistic legacy of the region.

What more would you like to see happening to support emerging artists?

I aspire to witness an increase in venues dedicated to showcasing art, providing spaces such as studios for artists to work and unleash their creativity. Additionally, there is a desire for a more extensive offering of workshops and talks. Initiatives like those taken by local venues, such as RAW Coffee Company, to actively support artists like myself, play a crucial role in fostering a thriving artistic community. While there certainly has been progress, I believe there is still room for growth in this area.

How do you think events such as Art Dubai are of benefit to artists in the region?

Art Dubai stands out as one of the premier festivals that facilitates artists in forging connections and meeting potential partners and galleries. I eagerly anticipate it every year, and fortunately, this year, I will be showcasing and creating art live as part of an activation to engage both visitors and fellow artists at the event.

How has your heritage and upbringing inspired you in your work?

My culturally rich and renowned heritage has significantly enriched my artistic journey. Specifically, being Palestinian and more broadly, an Arab, has added immense depth to my creative exploration. My inspiration draws heavily from the historical narratives and the natural beauty embedded in the old art scene. I find particular affection and inspiration in the ancient Egyptian culture, as it resonates closely with my style, emphasising the art of storytelling.

Is there an art piece that you would still like to create?

Absolutely! I dream of crafting a monumental piece. While the most extensive piece I have undertaken so far measures two metres in length, requiring nine months to complete, my ultimate aspiration is to finish another one that is ten times that size one day

We have seen you talking publicly about the situation in Gaza – it’s a big topic to tackle but is there something you would like to say about the situation?     

To be honest, the situation holds immense personal sensitivity for me as I hail from Gaza. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up there, experiencing its beauty across various facets of life before the devastating events unfolded. Witnessing the current news and the dire circumstances in Gaza deeply saddens me every day. The only means through which I can express this heartfelt pain is through art in its various forms—be it drawing, painting, singing, writing, and occasionally dancing.                                                                       

What is your hope for the future?

My sincere hope is for the world to embrace the idea that life is a beautiful journey meant to be enjoyed and lived in peace, and harmony.

In terms of your art, what is in the pipeline for the coming year?

Currently, I am proudly exhibiting and showcasing a collection of my artworks at the amazing RAW Coffee Company in Al Quoz, running until the end of March this year. Additionally, in May, I’ve been given the opportunity to showcase some of my pieces at World Art Dubai during their 10th edition.

What is your professional motto?

Art is cheaper than therapy!

What is a piece of advice you would give to aspiring artists?

Above all, persevere and maintain the belief that there is something valuable to share through your art with the world. Embrace authenticity, never shy away, and express yourself genuinely, even within the pieces you create. Be original and resist the temptation to imitate others.

Who is an artist or artwork that has inspired you?

I haven’t been inspired by a specific artist; instead, my inspiration has consistently been drawn from a culture or a particular art style, primarily influenced by historical art from regions such as Egypt, Iraq, Persia, and Andalusia.