Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

A Life Beyond Boundaries: Artist Fatma Lootah

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Some may describe her as bohemian, others eccentric and controversial. Today artist and activist Fatma Lootah lives in Italy but her Emirati heritage that was very much a part of her childhood, remains a central part of her life today. Her desire for art drove her beyond boundaries as she struggled to exist in a society that at the time questioned her career choice. Her love and endurance for art is a story to be told.

At Bastakiya on one of her rare visits, she shares her thoughts with me on painting, performance art and her passion in life.

Where were you raised?

I was born and raised in Dubai in the 1960’s and 1970’s, lots of lovely memories.

Current city?

Verona, Italy. I came to Verona in 1984 and never left. This is where I raised my three daughters.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. At the age of 13, I started drawing and painting more seriously. In fact, I was just reminded the other day by AbdulQader Al Rais that we had both exhibited together at the age of 15 at an official art exhibition! That’s how passionate we both were about art. I did my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Baghdad University, and then went onto Washington DC for higher studies in the Arts.

What does your Emirati heritage mean to you?

It means everything to me – the desert is the land that I was raised on. The palm tree is the most fascinating tree – there is no tree like it. I painted the Emirati series of works a few years ago – life-size canvasses of women in traditional dress. One common theme existed – they were all strong women.

Tell us about your latest project.

My latest project is called ‘Whispers from High Heavens’ and was exhibited at Sikka Art Fair. The material used is unique; creating it was also quite dangerous. I persevered to create these very different pieces of art made out of resin and added calligraphy to the paintings.

When was the highlight period of the arts scene during your lifetime?

Until the 1980’s performance art was considered an avant garde mystery. Art was not just created by the stroke of a brush, but also involved performance. This was a very popular period that I lived through, especially in Italy where I created many performance art pieces involving women’s rights. During this period, it became more widely known and people started to appreciate its technical brilliance.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I look up to the skies.

Who is the greatest artist of all time in your opinion?

Pablo Picasso – one of my favourite artists.

A little known fact about you.

I am an avid cook – I love cooking different cuisines to unwind and it’s one of my hobbies.

Words you live by…

Freedom, freedom, freedom.

Click to watch Fatma Lootah’s Abu Dhabi TV interview, 2008 (arabic)

The pragmatic hub of art in the region

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

This article was first featured in Gulf News on the 2nd April, 2010

Dubai isn’t quite there yet, but with a bit of fine-tuning there is no reason why it shouldn’t seize the initiative.

After a week of taking in all the art at Art Dubai and Bastakiya Art Fair, I felt quite invigorated to say the least. Both fairs were extraordinary — one very up-market with visitors dressed to the nines strutting their latest Manolo Blahniks, seen analysing Kader Attia’s deafening installation History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock , and the latter boho-chic and relaxed in what it had to offer. It was very refreshing; I felt that many of the pieces of art crossed the line in their subject matter and at the end of the day that is essentially what art is meant to do — leave you pondering, or in extreme cases quite horrified, about a certain message. Despite the critics condemning the fairs’ censorship policy, Art Dubai left me asking one significant question: As the city of Dubai moves in this creative and commercial direction, are we really getting it absolutely right?

Art Dubai certainly proves that the world of art and culture in the region has moved from the traditional notion of a gatekeeper ministry approach to private and semi-government institutions moving things forward in a positive manner. This avant-garde fair idea takes a great deal of foresight for a city in this region and yet again Dubai has proven that it has taken the initiative and jumped first onto the bandwagon. Take the Bidoun Lounge Art Park and the Global Art Forum for example — substantially off-beat talks where people interested in the world of art get together very informally to hear international curators, artists and collectors share their views. Over the years they have proved to be stimulating. This shows that Dubai can be a pragmatic art hub of East meets West, where debates occur. After all, we are geographically placed in the middle of both worlds and demographically we qualify as a city with a critical mass of over 180 nationalities living and working together. This all sounds very positive, and coupled with a large amount of wealth owned by many collectors in the region and the many galleries that already exist, Dubai seems to be on an ideal cultural pedestal moving towards the success level of fairs such as Art Basel Miami and Frieze in London. Nevertheless, I believe the city has a great deal to get right before it is close to being dubbed the ‘pragmatic hub’ of art in the Middle East.

Firstly, and at the top of my list, is the creation of art-education institutions that cultivate and incubate creative young minds. On the periphery, Dubai does have some good non-profit organisations — such as Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre — which continuously feed the minds of young people and adults in the fields of art, drama and music. However, my interest lies in the educational institutions of a higher level such as universities that teach the fine arts. Once this happens, we will see the emergence of many talented Emirati artists who would look up to and learn from legends of the previous generation such as Najat Makki and Abdul Qader Al Rais, and see them entering into international auctions such as Christie’s and Bonham’s as their predecessors did.

Public art

Secondly, I would like to see the development of art in public spaces. Aren’t urban developments meant to be where people learn to appreciate the meaning behind creative installations and sculptures? This has an impact on their understanding of each piece of art that they will ever come across. I am a great believer in art in public spaces — so much so that I feel we need to create a designated committee to this end. In the 1970s we did see an abundance of sculptures, such as falcons and traditional coffee cups, all over the country, but after that not much was created. These creative installations could be placed everywhere, from park benches to main roads, from designs on metro manhole covers to architectural building designs. This is one of the ways that we can inculcate a sense of curiosity and innovation in the minds of our youth.

Last but not least, we need to witness the birth of our very own Middle Eastern Contemporary Art Museum. The wave of visitors at Art Dubai certainly proves that there has been a thirst in the region for something as substantial as this. With prominent collectors such as Sultan Sooud Al Qasimi and artists that exist within the region who have personally told me they would fully endorse the idea by donating some of their top pieces, I am absolutely sure that we can put together an impressive museum that would attract the mobile population of the UAE and many people from all over the worldwho visit.

For argument’s sake, let us go back to the original question. Is Dubai the pragmatic art hub of the Middle East? Perhaps not at the moment, but it is certainly on its way there. We just need to inject some of the above to get there a bit faster.

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