UAE is a dream destination for artists: Rana Aljamal

Artist takes local calligraphy and movement to the world through her paintings


David Light

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Published: Wed 28 Jul 2021, 4:42 PM

Last updated: Mon 30 Oct 2023, 3:30 PM

Growing up and spending her life in Dubai, artist Rana Aljamal has turned her hand to a host of contemporary art, though finds herself centering on figure drawings as a calling card.

Self-taught from the age of 12, Aljamal’s inspiration has always been drawn from personal experiences to depict everyday emotions and believes painting people has the ability to capture the human condition better than photography. Mixing in calligraphy gives the pieces a sense of place and conveys even greater meaning.

With a BA in Visual Communication from The American University in Dubai leading her into a media industry career, Aljamal feels the time is right to shift more focus on her artwork. We wanted to find out why.

Living in Dubai all your life, how do you think the UAE is a nurturing environment for artists?

The UAE is definitely an artist’s dream destination! Over the years the UAE’s blossoming and diverse art scene has put the country on the list of top places to visit globally for all artists and art lovers. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai Design District are just a few of my favourite must-visit spots for inspiration and leisure too! Not to mention the yearly art events like Art Dubai, Abu Dhabi Art Fair, Design Days Dubai and more that showcase the work of top local and international artists, as well as talks and workshops that keep us artists busy and inspired all year long!

What made you focus on people and calligraphy as subjects for your art? What are you predominantly trying to say through your pictures?

I found my passion in contemporary modern art with a hint of abstract style. I love drawing people and capturing the essence of human nature. I’m inspired by the fragility of humans, by those soul-bearing moments that can happen in a split second. I translate those emotions to the universal language of art, only to hope that the viewer understood and captured what I’m trying to say with my brush strokes.

As for Arabic calligraphy, I simply use the letters and words spontaneously as elements that serve the theme of the painting. There’s something unique about Arabic letters. I find them extremely soothing and therapeutic to look at. The way they curve, swirl and bloom, it’s no surprise that a lot of people decorate their homes with them as symbols of love and positivity. Arabic is one of the most beautiful and sophisticated languages. Did you know that there are 14 words in Arabic that mean ‘love’? How magical is that?

Whether in your corporate life or as a painter, art has always featured heavily. What made you confident from such an early age this was the life for you?

To me and from an early age (and as an introvert!) art has always been spontaneous and an easier way to express myself than using words. I paint with passion and with all my senses. I capture a gesture I noticed or an expressive face I noticed while walking by. I gained experience and developed my skills further with practice. During my first year of university I was happy to display my art and introduce it to the public at the American University in Cairo.

After that, art played a major role in my educational and professional life. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Communication, and worked as a Creative Director for top selling magazines in Dubai before entering the digital content world of social media and marketing. My talent strengthened my career in many ways, and I am grateful that my professional life and personal hobby cross paths every day.

Are the figures in your paintings imaginary or people you know?

My figure paintings are inspired by everyday life and people I meet, or by a quote or a poem that I read. The feelings I get from the words or faces are what I try to translate and mirror into my canvas.

You capture quite a few dance scenes. Are you a keen dancer too? What is it about dance’s expression that you find fascinating?

In my canvas, you will find music, poetry, dance, and brush strokes of the colours in my thoughts. I have a passion for painting different types of dances like flamenco, ballet and the sufi darwish dance too! The dancers’ movements and dedication have always fascinated me, and once I’m intrigued by something it finds its way to my canvas! And yes, I am taking flamenco lessons, and of course dance in the privacy of my home whenever I need a mood lift!

Do you think Arabic calligraphy deserves more global attention as an art form?

I use Arabic letters in my work as part of the artwork depending on the theme and the story behind the painting. There are a lot of different schools when it comes to Arabic Calligraphy, and each font and style is more fascinating than the other! I believe that each Arabic letter is an artwork standing on its own.

You can actually find a lot of western celebrities embracing this beautiful language by using inspirational words as body art, jewellery or in their home décor. I hope that Middle Eastern artists and calligraphers will spread this beautiful art form furthermore and give it the attention it deserves.

What are your current plans with your work? How can people in the UAE enquire about your pieces?

Because I live between Canada and Dubai, people will find my work in both countries in different locations. I am currently working on participating in a few Dubai events as well as a solo exhibition in Canada. Exciting plans are coming soon! People can follow my art journey on Instagram @artist_rana_aljamal where I will be posting my future plans, or to enquire about my art.

Who are the artists you admire today and why?

My number one favourite artist is my mom Lamis Abu Khalil. She is an established and experienced artist with exhibitions around the world. I watched her all my life create the most beautiful artworks with passion and dedication, and learned from her everything I know now. Our dream is to have a joint exhibition, hopefully in the near future!

What are your words of advice for anyone pursuing an art career right now?

Be patient, keep practicing, don’t let anyone put you down. Hold your brush with pride, and do what you love! Art starts with talent. And with practice this talent can turn to a successful profession.