An Artistic Ring to Personal Space: In Conversation with Shan Fazelbhoy

By Joydeep Sen Gupta

Published: Thu 18 Feb 2021, 6:48 PM

Shan Fazelbhoy’s creative pursuits embody her passion for personal space. Fazelbhoy, a Pakistani national and a trained artist in traditional art forms such as oils, watercolours and pastels, embodies Dubai’s multiculturalism and a celebration of life in its myriad joyful hues.

Born in Delhi, raised in what was Bombay then and Mumbai now, Fazelbhoy’s cross-border marriage took her to Karachi, Pakistan, in the mid-1980s. She lived in Pakistan for the next 13 years. She moved to Dubai, where she learnt découpage, in 1999 and has been living here ever since.

She also came in contact with acclaimed educator Nayyar Jamil during her stay in Karachi, who left an indelible mark on her life.

“In retrospect, the art landscape in Karachi around three decades ago was not as prolific as now. Mrs Jamil was a vibrant personality, and her space was open, welcoming and very conducive to learning. I learned a lot under her guidance and continued there for about two years. However, fortunately, the art scene in Pakistan has blossomed and grown by leaps and bounds with colleges, shows, galleries. Now, there’s a much wider interest in art and paintings,” says Fazelbhoy.

For the uninitiated, découpage is an art form of decorating an object, by glueing printed paper cutouts onto it, coupled with special paint effects, gold leaves and other decorative elements on the lines of collage.

“I love the versatility of this art form. Now when I get the time, I enjoy making various artistic objects. Also, I get to reuse items which one would normally throw away and this appeals to me a lot too, as I have been environmentally conscious for a better part of my life,” she says.

Découpage is an extension of Fazelbhoy’s personality, who puts a premium on her personal space, which is reflected in her novel initiative Kobo Art, an online art gallery showcasing the work of emerging talents from the UAE, the wider region and also the Indian subcontinent.

Kobo, a Japanese word for an artist’s space, is a concept, which was launched in 2012. The concept might have been ahead of its time back then, but now appears to be a natural fit amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic. She looks back in wonder and amazement at the past nine years. “We’ve grown while continuing to raise the bar of the art we showcase and the artists who join us. It’s a wonderful experience to be a part of the momentous art journey of several talented artists. However, social media has changed the market forces. A gallery has its own relevance: it’s a one-stop shop for art of all genres and also a safe environment for artists and buyers who may not yet be market savvy,” she says.

Her understanding of the changing art landscape in Dubai is echoed by some of the artists she promotes.

Hessa Al Emadi, an Emirati artist, says, “I’ve been sharing my artwork at Kobo Art for three years. The online gallery has given me a good exposure, as I’ve sold many paintings through her platform.”

Sumaiya Vakil Zubair, who like Fazelbhoy was born and brought up in India and became a Pakistani national after marriage, has been living in Dubai for over two decades.

“Painting brings an abundance of joy, happiness and calmness to me and Kobo Art has been a vehicle for my artistic expression. I hope that my paintings do the same for others as well,” she adds.

Similarly, Sonu Sultania, an Indian-national based in Dubai, whose brush with painting came to fruition when she was around 30, is all praise for Fazelbhoy’s initiative.

“She (Fazelbhoy) has offered me a wonderful platform for an immersive experience as an artist. She gave me several opportunities to take part in exhibitions,” says Sultania, included in the group of over 90 artists that Fazelbhoy manages.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the art landscape, like other sectors, in Dubai.

But Fazelbhoy sees an opportunity amid the all-pervasive doom and gloom.

“I don’t think it’s a negative trend. Many people have embraced the digital transformation overnight. Business is back as usual. Also, artists could experiment with several art forms as they were confined indoors owing to the pandemic,” she says.

Fazelbhoy, who had a comfortable upbringing and is a mother of two daughters, has always been a restless soul.

Earlier, she had tried her hand at jewellery making, hair dressing, event management, brand consultancy and fiction writing in Dubai with consummate ease and success. She is also a professional tarot card reader.

However, it’s her innate love and compassion for animals from her tender years that lends a multi-dimensional facet to her personality.

She reminisces about her formative years in Bombay as she tends to her seven pets, including six cats and a dog, at her tastefully done-up townhouse in Dubai.

“I’ve loved animals and used to round-up some of the neighbourhood dogs in Bombay. My lunch was often fed to three stray dogs. I think it is the animals’ unconditional acceptance of who I am that makes me connect with these beings. Usually, I donate to animal shelters in Pakistan and Thailand. I don’t find pets, they seem to find me,” she adds.

That’s been the mantra of her life. She respects an individual’s space, which, she feels, allows spontaneous artistic expression.

A pleasant thought amid the Covid-19-induced hard times.

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