Jalal's Art Trip is coming up for its third year and the man behind the idea sits in his office at the Ghaf Gallery, looking suitably pleased. Posters of the previous trips hang on one of the walls, reminders of artists he has nurtured and exhibited. As a co-owner of one of Abu Dhabi's most active art galleries, Jalal Luqman says he takes great pride in raising the visibility of artists in the UAE as he seeks out those corners of the country's landscape that provoke artistic inspiration.
With the deadline of January 20 approaching for this year's application, Luqman says that the decision to continue hinged on more than merely personal satisfaction. "I don't own the trip any more. Now it's out in the public and it has become a responsibility that I have, especially when I started getting letters from people who participated about how it changed their lives. One or two of the artists even want to quit their jobs now in order to focus more on art."
From young university students to mature participants looking for new outlets of creativity, the past trips have attracted a diverse crowd of non-professional artists seeking a leg-up in the art world. Emiratis as well as residents from countries such as the UK, Bangladesh and Germany have all participated in the process, which lasts between six and eight weeks, beginning with a one-day trip into nature and culminating in an exhibition at the Ghaf Gallery.
Luqman stresses that the process has no place for pieces collecting dust behind the refrigerator. "When I take them to the desert or the mountains or the ocean, I don't expect to find paintings of the desert or the ocean. I care that the work is authentic. It has to be a very raw kind of experience where you make the painting from the ground up." Fittingly cyclical, the trip is not the end in itself, he adds, but a vehicle of inspiration that is meant to summon the muse.
"The idea of the trip is not the trip," he says. "The real thing is for people to see your work be produced from absolutely nothing to a painting that will hang in an exhibition and ideally get sold. Because that is like the epic - of being a sold, exhibited artist." And while the landscape is normally a place agreed upon by the group, he hopes that this year they will journey into the Western Region, to Liwa or somewhere similar. He leaves it to the muse to decide. "Nothing is set at this time because fundamentally there has to be inspiration in the trip."
Now a full-time independent artist himself, Luqman believes the trip is essential to supporting the growing art scene in the UAE. Based on his own experience, he says events such as the art trip are necessary for turning creative people from closeted artists into professional exhibitors. "I never really forgot where I came from," he explains. "I remember when I was dying for someone to give me a helping hand, and I couldn't find it. There were a few people that made that easy. That's why I did this trip, because I wanted to make it easy for artists who didn't get the chance."
As the project grows, Luqman is searching for new ways to expand its visibility. The workshops that normally take place at the Ghaf Gallery will be spread out through Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with professional artists leading some of the discussion groups. He also says he's looking for additional funding that, if procured, would lift Jalal's Art Trip to a whole new level. "Ideally, I'd like the next trips to be more than one day and I'd like them to be in different countries," he says. "Definitely, it will give a different angle to the trip itself. It will be more of a living experience. But this is the future - maybe 2011, 2012."
Grander vision notwithstanding, Luqman says he still receives a large personal reward from watching the journeys his participants take. "I get a feeling that no one else gets when the artist finally hangs a painting on the wall." If the piece sells, that is simply an added bonus. "But," he says, "just for them to be confident enough to put a painting in an exhibition - it's there for people either to like or criticise. And to see that transformation happen in front of my eyes is just amazing."