Working hours over, Sumayyah Al Suwaidi arrives at Ghaf Gallery in the afternoon with a small pack of raw vegetables and humus - her very late lunch. It is the last day before Ramadan and she is busy setting up her very dear and rather unique project.
“Did my two large paintings arrive?” she inquires looking around the gallery, packed with canvases facing the walls to protect them from dust. Sumayyah will have to work hard and fast to make everything ready for the Ramadan Art Bazaar, which starts on August 15 and lasts until Eid.
“I know I organise it, but the Ramadan Art Bazaar is my favourite art show in Abu Dhabi. It is the concept that I love best,” she says.
Now an annual event, the art fair gathers dozens of works from various artists in the UAE and beyond, selling them at very low prices. The idea is to make art accessible to anyone who loves it, but can’t afford it.
“It all started because suddenly, the Emirati artists started selling their works at very high prices. It was not only artists with valuable and worthy artworks that were expensive. Even the newcomers copied them to make it hard for an inexperienced buyer to select the good from the bad,” explains Sumayyah.
For this reason she came up with the idea of inviting top artists to sell their work no higher than Dh4,000 for a piece, even though it might be worth Dh20,000.
“If someone like Channel or Dior can have a sale once a year, when you can buy their extraordinary jewellery or dresses at cut prices, why can’t we, the artist community do the same?”
“Making art affordable also helps people interact with artists more freely. During the Bazaar it’s a real nice, relaxed atmosphere. Everyone is friends with everyone.”
This Ramadan, the Art Bazaar gathers 24 UAE artists, a British living in Oman and a Kuwaiti artist, each one displaying and selling six artworks.
“It is not hard to part with a painting. On the other hand, when it comes to art, the most memorable experience to me is whenever someone buys my work. Especially nowadays, when money is not easy, it gives me a wonderful feeling when somebody spends on art, and chooses my art,” says Sumayyah.
“Recently there was a lady from England who was here on a visit and saw an article in a magazine with a photograph of one of my paintings, The Doll. She liked it so much that she managed to find me and called to ask whether she could buy it. I was planning to exhibit it in the Ramadan Bazaar, but instead I took out the frame and send it over to this lady.”
Sumayyah al Suwaidi is an Emirati artist born in Abu Dhabi. Her love with art started when she was 16 years old. As a young girl, she had a natural talent for drawing. Friends would often ask her to ‘make’ a banner or a poster for them. So when she turned 18 and had to choose a college, she chose to study graphic designing.
It was in her college years that Sumayyah had her first real encounter with art. She would spend hours on Internet looking up digital art websites until one day when she started doing her own.
“In 2001 I had my first collection of art works, six digital paintings, dedicated to Shaikh Zayed. They all were sold out,” she remembers.
Two years later Sumayyah had her first group exhibition in Beach Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi, this time with a bigger collection of abstract digital paintings printed on canvas.
“People did not believe those were not oil or water col our paintings, but digital works done on computer and then printed. They had to go and touch the canvas,” she laughs.
In 2007 Sumayyah had her first solo exhibition. This time her style changed from abstracts to figure or portraiture, although her medium stayed the same - digital painting.
Along with her, Sumayyah brought digital art form to Abu Dhabi’s art scene, not much seen around the UAE at that time. Basically, she takes a photograph of her subject and re-works it using digital software, especially digital paints and brushes.
“Art for me is an expression. If we couldn’t express ourselves creatively through art, then we would have to do it in a different way, which could be good or bad,” believes Sumayyah.
“I mostly work on something when I feel sad or angry. It takes out the pain in a beautiful way. I think you can see it on my paintings too. When I’m happy I don’t feel the need to create.”
With her second solo exhibition planned for this October, Sumayyah is working now on a new collection of digital paintings, some of which will also be displayed in an art exhibition in Paris this December.
“In Paris there will be an international group of artists, not Arab or Middle Eastern. They saw my works and liked them, so I was invited to participate,” she explains.
For her new collection, Sumayyah keeps a row of women portraits, now her signature subject.
“I believe that in the UAE we have both type of artists. First, those who create from an inner need. They simply have to express themselves and that is why they do create. And we have artists who follow a fashion. They know a particular style would sell and that is why they are doing it. I don’t think this is a bad thing, though. An artist has to survive too; he has to put bread on the table. And, if the work is good, why should it matter whether he did it out of fashion or out of passion.”
Sumayyah Al Suwaidi may be a young artist, but she has already made large waves among Abu Dhabi’s artist society. And not only her works impress but also herself do, as she often organises exhibitions, art events and even creates art sales opportunities for her colleagues.
Her October show at the Ghaf Gallery is expected to be a big one, but, in the meantime, see you all at the Ramadan Art Bazaar!
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