Dubai: Diversity, food for thought at Made in Tashkeel exhibition

Dubai - We caught up with three talented artists from the exhibition.


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Sat 14 Aug 2021, 9:09 AM

Last updated: Sat 14 Aug 2021, 12:50 PM

Wondering what to do on your days off? Art aficionados in the UAE can head down to the 11th edition of ‘Made in Tashkeel’, running till September 7, where a diverse array of works is on display, spanning a wide range of disciplines, including photography, mixed media, acrylic, textile, screenprinting, sculpture, video, installation and calligraphy. Over 40 artists who have been Tashkeel members, workshop participants, instructors and exhibitors have created over 65 works, some of which are available for sale and were created at Tashkeel’s printmaking, digital printing, fine art and private studios.


Participants come from more than 20 countries, including the UAE, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Belgium, Japan, India, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, UK, Zambia and the USA. Emirati artists presenting their works this year include Abdulla Lutfi, Eman Al Hashemi, Noura Alserkal, Khalid Mezaina, and Badr Abaas.

We caught up with three artists who are participating in the exhibition; Priyathanya Ramanath, Badr Abbas and Asma Shikoh discuss their dispays at Made in Tashkeel, how the art world is slowly recovering from the effects of the pandemic, and the relevance of physical exhibitions vis a vis virtual ones.


How do you feel about being part of the Made in Tashkeel exhibition?

It is always a pleasure and honour. It is interesting to see the diversity in artworks and artists; we learn from each other and share our inspirations. It (also) gives us a great networking opportunity to interact with artists, government officials, collectors, the media, as well as art lovers.

As a self-taught artist, what were some of your early inspirations? You are known to be a big fan of Star Wars.

Star Wars brought out my innate love for movies and opened up a whole new world of fantasy for me. The sci-fi depiction of wise robots, sleek spaceships, brave rogues and Jedi knights in my new art, portrays the cultural touchstone of my childhood that had me engrossed for years and led to my iconic collection of Action Figures and Space Ships that I treasure to this day.

Covid affected galleries around the world, and many were forced to conduct virtual exhibitions. What is the importance according to you of having a physical exhibition?

Physical exhibitions give the artist more satisfaction and the visitor a better real time experience. Unless I don’t have my artwork hung up a wall, I will not be satisfied that my artwork has been displayed to the public! The size and colors and texture and medium on the artwork are not justified in virtual exhibitions; unless you see the artwork in front of your eyes, you will not feel its magic and soul.

As a member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society, what is the message you wish to convey through your work about Emirati culture and customs?

I paint what I love and what makes me happy. Roots are very important, and I am greatly influenced by Emirati culture and tradition, which you will always find in my art. I believe that we must hold on to our identity and embrace differences. Also, can culture be saved from the verge of extinction? Dubai being fluid in terms of culture…(there are) many aspects of Dubai’s culture which people don’t know about.

To move culture and tradition from old houses, traditional clothes, or moments from early lifestyles of the UAE to a different dimension and re-shuffle art by reaching the edge!

What mediums do you usually use for your work?

Mostly I paint using acrylic colours on a large size canvas, and I also paint in oil colours.

What does art mean to you?

I feel a legacy lives in my art. These artworks are as far as I can go with my imagination. I paint the future! Every day is a new life, and my work reflects the day! I see I am curious about who I am, and I would like to honour it by my art.

My paintings reflect my values, my dreams, my aspirations, my vision, my experiences, my lifestyle, and my purpose. That’s the message you will always find in my artworks. My art has encouraged me to ask deeper questions about my identity and purpose!


How do you feel about being part of the Made in Tashkeel exhibition?

I have been a member of Tashkeel ever since I moved to Dubai, and it has been a great space for me to explore my creativity and test new waters. It is a great art community, I am there most weekdays, working on my art, socialising, exchanging, and collaborating with other artists and staff.

Covid affected galleries around the world and many were forced to conduct virtual exhibitions. What is the importance according to you of having a physical exhibition?

I am a painter and ceramicist. The physical exhibition could provide a holistic experience to the viewer, helping them connect with the art better. The viewer can interact with the texture, colours, and gain new tactile perspectives.

The guided tours can bring in an element of surprise to the viewers about the exhibition; it helps them to connect different artworks to the theme of the exhibition and view each artwork in a new dimension. However, the virtual exhibitions during Covid are a great alternate option and source of encouragement to all artists and art lovers.

Your work, the Simran series, is inspired by Bollywood. Why did that specific film inspire you and how would you describe your current exhibit at Tashkeel?

I enjoy movies which are light and fun to watch, and have an optimistic climax. In the Bollywood movie Simran, the main actor is a young, beautiful and strong woman wanting to explore her freedom on her own terms. The drama and the wit keep me engrossed throughout.

Simran is a heist movie that I attempted to make into a Conversational Landscape. Conversational Landscapes is a series that looks at how unconscious doodling creates a regular and fixed pattern of drawing when I am speaking with a specific individual. In addition, I am investigating how transcribing a situation as instinctive energy flow creates unique designs which repeat.

I was eager to see if an intuitive energetic pattern would transpire into an object and not a person in this work. While engrossed in the plot of the movie, I created two artworks sequentially. I allowed my subconscious mind to actively paint and capture the movie’s energy in various strokes. I noticed that the subconscious responded to a story in a particular way. In the two artworks, the pattern that emerges is unique to this video clip, and it repeats itself like a familiar rhythm. I learned that my mind responds to this movie the same way every time. The video clip finally left a recurring art story of its own.

As a self-taught artist, what were some of your early inspirations?

“Mind is magical, printing snapshots, inked by all senses into our brain.” I have always been inspired by what I produce. Every time I completed a painting, sculpture, or drawing, I surprise myself. I love nature, I do gardening,  I take long walks and I bike, all of which inspire me. I believe everything is a representation of energy in different forms. I somehow yearned to draw and paint what I saw. I did a lot of Plein-air paintings.

I added my favorite colours and textures to my works. I believe everyone views the world uniquely and I wanted to show my world through my art. My portraits depicted the fusion of my subject with the energy of its surroundings.

Currently, I am exploring the sense of pattern and rhythm present in our subconscious mind, which is not readily accessible to our active mind. My work in Conversational Landscapes has become an important method of accessing my subconscious mind.

How has the art scene in Dubai progressed since you moved here?

I moved to Dubai around November 2019, soon after which the lockdown started, giving me little time to explore the art scene. I started from base zero, when there were no galleries functioning, and canceled art exhibitions to now. 2021 has been a great year so far, I participated in World Art Dubai, DIFC Art Night, and a few other pop-up art shows. I see a lot of contemporary art around Dubai and enjoy every bit of it.

What does art mean to you?

It is important to tell the world your unique view, when this is visually showcased using different mediums.

To me, doing art is meditative and enjoyable. I quietly show the world the colours I see, the patterns I create, and the beauty I create. Art is a way to improve my life, our surroundings and find peace within ourselves.


How do you feel about being part of the Made in Tashkeel exhibition?

Made in Tashkeel has been a breath of fresh air in otherwise claustrophobic times. It’s a diverse creative group and I am extremely happy to be showing with so much talent from Dubai. Also Tashkeel has been a huge support for us artists through the pandemic.

Covid affected galleries around the world and many were forced to conduct virtual exhibitions. What is the importance according to you of having a physical exhibition?

Though evolving, my art work still demands a physical space and  interactions. I am glad that Tashkeel was able to offer its galleries to showcase it. We are immensely grateful for our virtual lives right now; but interacting with artworks can be truly therapeutic. Just looking, touching and feeling, and being in the presence of these objects for a little while, in the same room, can bring healing. I encourage people to visit art spaces, just knowing that the material in front of us has been touched and shaped by another for their own therapy and joy, can be a meditative experience.

Your work ‘explores the dichotomies of ownership within displacement’. It’s a kind of metaphor for modern life as the feeling of impermanence is more obviously manifested ever since the pandemic set in. How would you describe your current exhibit at Tashkeel?

Much of my art has been motivated by my living in different cities accross the world and the challenges to identity it brings. In the current climate, factors that kept me grounded suddenly vanished, like visiting family, especially my mom. As a result, the dichotomies of ownership and displacement have become far more complicated.

As you mentioned, the feeling of impermanence is manifested greatly in these times and my recent work, included in this exhibition, has also become far more introspective. From mapping the cities I live in, I now find myself mapping the terrains of our internal sacred environment of the spiritual heart and the mountains we all have to climb. My exhibit focuses on the metaphysical heart being the king and the rest of the body its slave. Never had I been aware of the power of this organ more acutely, than during the pandemic. In this series of sculptures called ‘At Your Mercy’, the heart becomes a metaphor. If the heart is left unchecked, yielding to every whim and desire, it is then at the mercy of the winds; turning lightly with gentle breeze, or whirling madly in a storm.

You grew up in Karachi and moved to New York. How did the move influence your work?

Migration and globalization have played a pivotal role in the formation of my artistic identity. I use my art making as an opportunity to reinvent myself as I navigate a new cultural landscape. In Karachi, I looked at American culture as neocolonialism, devaluing our national ideals by mere fast food. Then, I ended up in New York, where my immigration story became a universal one, and I became the self-portrait of Statue of Liberty as a proud new bride. I continued to look at the icons of the city and how I could embrace this new place. The Urdu language took over the NYC subway map in my paintings and made me feel perfectly at home.

Then in Dubai, rootedness was found in connections with its diverse people and their opinions. Hence, I worked on the massive Transportation Map of Dubai speckled with WhatsApp audios in the form of QR codes. For me, living between cultures, art has been my saviour.

What mediums do you usually use for your work?

I am a mixed media artist and my practice varies from painting, drawing and collaging to installations. For this new series, I started to work with stainless steel. I guess the medium has subconsciously creeped into my psyche by being surrounded by the never ending construction material of steel in the city of Dubai.

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