Tell us about your foray into printmaking.
Even as a kid, I was very good at drawing comics and anime-style characters, but never thought of pursuing art as a career. I dreamt of becoming a surgeon instead and was accepted to a medical college too. But by the time I received the acceptance letter, I was already enrolled at Zayed University and had had glimpses into the art departments and studios there. While looking at the different art studios with their various unique equipment and machineries, as well as seeing the art department faculty teach art with such passion and practise it themselves, I knew this was my calling, and that I may miss on a lot if I didn’t take this chance and consider art as my career path.
What was the lure?
What sealed it for me was the printmaking studio. I was mesmerised by the vast amount of technical machinery that looked so rough and unsophisticated, yet with a bit of magic produced the most delicate and soft mark makings ever. After a BA in Visual Art from Zayed University, I completed an MA in Print from the Royal College of Art in London, UK. Now I’m a full-time artist, hosting workshops, doing commissioned projects, and exhibiting locally and internationally.
What does printmaking entail?
It’s a world of its own, yet you can see it everywhere around you. From the banknote you used to buy this paper with (engraving), to the newspaper you’re holding right now (off-set litho printing), to your best friend’s wedding card (letterpress) that incidentally matches your favourite patterned dress (silkscreen printing). Simply explained, printmaking entails having a flat surface where you create your artwork on and then get an impression from it.
You’ve exhibited in Washington and Berlin. What was that like?
Past Forward was a touring exhibition that started in Washington DC and toured around major American cities. It was organised by the UAE Embassy with The Meridian International Centre, and co-curated by Noor Al Suwaidi. Portrait of A Nation was an exhibition that took place in Emirates Palace, and went to Berlin recently as part of Berlin Art Week. This was organised by Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation (ADMAF). Both exhibitions aimed at introducing Emirati art and artists to the West, and showcasing the artistic diversity we have. I was honoured to be among the selected group and I had the privilege of producing new body of work for both shows. I also had the chance to host a few print workshops at local schools and museums in East Lansing Michigan, as part of the Guest Artist programme.
What are the challenges of being a printmaking artist?
The main challenge is having proper print facilities in the country. Without such resources or skilled technicians this form of art will struggle to reach the masses. One way I try to tackle this issue is by offering workshops to young and adults. I firmly believe in the power of spreading awareness, and by doing so through teaching and hosting practical workshops, the audience start to understand what is a print and why, and they feel encouraged to continue exploring this discipline, which causes increase in demand. Of late, print workshops and initiatives are starting up and this definitely helps in sustaining the practice here.
You’ve mentioned establishing a diverse print community in the UAE...
Yes, I want to facilitate different resources to regional artists, to build a print network across the Middle East, and to highlight the UAE as a catalyst for the print community across the region and the world. I aim to do it by spreading awareness through workshops, and own practice, among others.
[Read how Abdulqader Al Rais, UAE’s foremost artist, finds purpose in ‘these troubled times’]
You’ve held a workshop at Tashkeel on bookbinding. Tell us a bit about that.
Bookbinding is a crucial traditional practice that existed throughout history, and has been advanced to so many new techniques and possibilities. Again this is a form of art that is still being applied but mostly by machines, whereas it used to be practised by skilled craftsmen. People are still interested in acquiring knowledge about the history of bookbinding and its techniques, and so I share with them the fundamentals of bookbinding in the hopes this may lead to discovering new alternatives and exciting bindings.
Do you see art as a catalyst for positive transformation?
Yes; if you can’t see or feel art (and design) around you — in buildings, in products, in the culinary world — then the right side of the brain may need a gentle nudge!
What importance does printmaking hold in today’s digital age?
Printmaking techniques are still being applied in today’s life, substituted mostly with technological means as opposed to manpower. For instance, silkscreen printing is now being controlled via machines and software that give accurate results in a short amount of time compared to if a printmaker was to hand-print it. No doubt it is still doable, and there is a higher value for hand-printed products than machine-made ones.
Your favourite project?
I will go with my recent body of work that was also my degree show at the Royal College of Art. Shadow Series is a self-conscious, personal series of work that focuses on autobiographical memories. It was recently exhibited at Meem Gallery in Dubai.
Your tips for young artists?
First, define success. For some people success means exhibiting internationally and becoming famous artists, for others it means just producing artworks in their own studio. Second, define short- and long-term goals. The third tip is to develop a studio practice; this helps in understanding oneself, how you think and why. Finally, be out there (physically or virtually); talk to people, engage in conversations.