The often unsung power of the hand-drawn work is at the centre of Genius, an exhibition of the UAE's illustration talent, currently at the Cartoon Art Gallery in Al Quoz.
This is the third show of illustrators curated by Fathima Mohiuddin and represents the largest pool of artists and designers she's worked with to date.
There's a drawing of a fanged panda head ensconced in a headdress of feathers and neon pentagons. Another image depicts how Emirati fashion might evolve by the year 2025, as well as a pointedly surreal representation of Little Red Riding Hood's visit to grandma. These are just some of the extravagant realms of imagination that Genius's 28 participants walk us through.
"Illustration is very much a career for most of the artists involved in this exhibition," says Mohiuddin, explaining that day-jobs among those featured range from children's publishing to newspaper infographics. "But having worked with them on a number of shows, I've realised that their skills are really versatile."
The accepted notion of illustration - as a means to convey a certain message - is a little too fixed, says Mohiuddin. It doesn't acknowledge the passion and curiosity that still fires the artists' work, and often keeps the personal work of such day-job illustrators outside of a conventional gallery environment.
The Mexican illustrator Luis Vazquez works for one of the UAE's daily newspapers. For Genius, however, he's submitted a simple yet marvellously crafted scene of a fleet of foxes bounding across a snow-filled forest expanse.
Naturally, inspiration for the image hasn't come from this otherwise arid locale. But Vazquez tells us that his noticeably precise aesthetic came from looking at and collecting images from the 20th century's great Japanese schools of illustration.
"It draws on old Japanese cartoons and graphic design from the 1950s and 1960s, and takes inspiration from very simplistic styles of drawing," he says.
"It's a good time to be an illustrator in Dubai right now. It's much better than four years ago when the prices being asked for work were too high. Now I think it's a scene that's better and bigger, and there's good competitiveness among those working in the media."
Genius is the first exhibition organised by The Domino, a new creative management company headed up by Mohiuddin, an artist herself. "There are so many artists here who are crying out for a platform," she says. "I realised that rather than waiting around for commercial galleries to include you, we should create one for ourselves."
The Domino originated from her British Council-sponsored trip through the UK, meeting with several artist-run gallery spaces along the way.
"I met students who couldn't find either a job or a gallery prepared to show their work, through to accomplished artists who had set spaces for themselves or for the work of emerging talent. The urge to set up an initiative like this always starts with wanting to serve yourself and then opening that up to others."
The Domino is half creative agency (linking artists with companies, brands and initiatives seeking locally based visual talent), and half wandering platform for the under-represented. Genius brings together one such group, and illustrates the private passions of those who make their daily bread from their drawings and daubings.
- Genius continues at The Cartoon Art Gallery, on Street 4b, Al Quoz 1, Dubai until February 29
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