x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Artists in the Studio: Alia Dawood

With training in architecture and fine art, the Prince's Drawing School graduate uses her skills to document Dubai's cityscape.

The artist Alia Dawood. Satish Kumar / The National
The artist Alia Dawood. Satish Kumar / The National

Born in Baghdad and raised in the leafy suburbs of West London, Alia Dawood moved to Dubai in October of last year with her head full of rigour after studying at The Prince's Drawing School.

"The tutors really stripped drawing down to its basic elements. They explained that drawing is both simple - something that has existed long before writing - and yet is the most complex thing in art," she says.

Dawood explains that for her, drawing is a way of "understanding" Dubai. She describes the city as a "bubble", but without any of the negative connotations usually associated with the term.

"I think that can be something really positive for an artist. You can make anything you want out of this city. You make the rules for your art and you can work in any way you like."

The process

Dawood's drawings encapsulate her early architectural training, with a drafter's sense of perspective and structure. When she applies this to the half-built or perhaps, overbuilt sections of Dubai, however, a more poetic sense rushes into each scene like a tremor. The result is an emotional reflection of the urban fabric. "I don't want to record it in a realistic way because I don't think that's saying anything. You have to add something to what you're seeing. You have to have an opinion while you're drawing."

These investigations - which she describes as a record of her experience in the UAE - are an attempt to tease out a good sense of the spatiality of the city. Sketching on the street, many of her images are chaotic and bunched together, while the buildings and street furniture of a city-in-process seem to lattice over one another. In others, cage-like shells of unfinished structures hover, detached in the white space of the page, broken only by the yellow of a crane cab. There is naïvety in her lines, too, a result, perhaps, of a search to render things unfettered by the formal eye of an architect.

Working week

Surprisingly, Dawood describes Dubai as "a good studio". "There aren't that many distractions," she says. "You can either let it take you wherever it wants to take you or you can use that newness about the city to create your own kind of life."

The artist divides her working time between her home and Tashkeel, the studio hub in Nad Al Sheba. She used its print-making facilities to produce several of her pieces currently held at Showcase Gallery on Alserkal Avenue. "Tashkeel is an amazing environment to work; very friendly. If you require something as an artist, they try to accommodate."

Dawood insists that forcing out drawings is a fast route to running on empty. "I think that's the difference between what I do and someone who has a strict office job. I've chosen this life to do what I love and so I approach it in a completely different way. I am disciplined and draw every day, not because I have to, but because I love it."

The inspiration

"Rather than drawing as if I want to photograph Dubai, I've tried to represent the feeling of being here," says the artist. "When you go around Business Bay, for instance, you feel claustrophobic. There are cranes over your head and reams of cables. Then you drive just a little way down the road and there's suddenly nothing to catch your eye - maybe just a single cable in the sky, or a crane far off in the distance."

Dawood explains that at the heart of her work is an interest in temporality - the duration of time enacted upon something. This is particularly pertinent to Dubai itself, and a number of Dawood's prints tussle with the change and movement of shadows. "People drift in and out, everything goes so fast and is so new. It's a very temporal city. I see that as a positive thing."

Getting seen

Dawood balances her drawing with working as an architect and she exhibited her work at Showcase Gallery earlier this year. "My priority was not to sell. I just wanted the pieces to be experienced."

She originally planned to show some of these pieces outside of a gallery context, in some of the more desolate areas found around Dubai. While this didn't come off, she's still fascinated by these "voids" of the city - "the abandoned houses that you find, and the empty spaces between two villas". "I don't think it's always important to show work in a typical way," she says.

"I've been approached by a few Dubai developers to record their buildings going up and I'd love to do that in Abu Dhabi as well. I like the contrast that the capital has with Dubai and I want to understand how the city works."

Prints and drawings by Alia Dawood are held at Showcase Gallery in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. Go to www.showcaseuae.com to see more of her work.

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