Create & Inspire competition recognises next generation of artists
From Saudi Arabia's answer to Banksy and a tongue-in-cheek recreation of a street kiosk in Cairo to a sculptural illustration symbolising forced compliance to social rules, the winning entries for this year's Create & Inspire competition were as varied as the participants themselves.
The 10 winners from the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia represent the voice of the GCC's youth. As their prize, they will travel to the UK for two weeks at the end of August to further their ideas by working alongside other artists.
"It is really a dream for me to be offered this chance," says Asma Alahmad, one of four UAE-based winners.
"I didn't think I would win," says Alia Lootah, another winner.
"A trip like this will push me to my limits," says Nour Abuhayeh, a 24-year-old Palestinian from Dubai. "I think being in a place out of my comfort zone surrounded by different people will force new ideas out of me and that is what is exciting me about it. I'm sure I will get to something that I didn't know I had in me."
Create & Inspire, now on its third year, is a competition set up by the Crossway Foundation, a London-based arts charity founded by Stephen Stapleton, who later started the Edge of Arabia initiative to boost the development of Arab art in the Gulf. Sponsored by Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI), which also supports regional art, the competition is meant to unearth hidden talent among young people. It is open to 16- to 25-year-olds in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Participants must submit work under a theme - this year's was Public Art: Re-imagining Your Community. Stapleton, the chief executive of the Crossway Foundation, says that enhancing communities through art has become an increasingly talked about topic in the Gulf. "Against this backdrop, we challenged applicants to come up with a creative campaign to inspire their communities and make a positive difference in their environment," he explains.
The competition was launched in March and, in June, panels of judges in Riyadh, Jeddah, Doha and Dubai interviewed 32 shortlisted entries. The results were announced earlier this month and preparations are now under way for the trip in August.
Fady Jameel, the president of ALJCI International, says that such trips will not only help the winning artists but also their communities. "Supporting initiatives like these lies at the heart of what we at ALJCI believe in, to foster the career of young artists, encouraging them to develop their talents further by exposing them to new experiences and empowering them to share what they have learnt, thus enriching their communities once back home."
Winning entries included drawing, graphic design, installation, sculpture and video pieces. Mohanna Tayeb, a 23-year-old studying at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, was selected for her drawing Cut Your Hair. "I am still searching for my identity and trying to discover it via symbols in my drawings," she says. "Cutting your hair is a social obligation in the Gulf and it is just one example of what differentiates mankind from other species: freedom of choice. Communities create restrictions and boundaries in order to avoid people escaping customs and traditions. I feel, however, that this system destroys the creativity in any community."
Another winner from Saudi Arabia is Abdullah Alshehri. The 22-year-old is a street artist from Riyadh, whose work makes obvious reference to Banksy, the UK graffiti artist known for his satirical and subversive work.
"Whenever I do a new piece of street art, I take a photo and share it on social media," Alshehri says. "This enables all of my followers to comment, share and like the work I do. But it is also a way of providing criticism. You can't create this type of dialogue on the streets."
Also honoured was Alahmad, a 21-year-old Emirati from Ras Al Khaimah, for her video of food-colouring droplets in Petri dishes of milk. Nadine Nour El Din, a 22-year-old Egyptian, won for her installation entitled Kiosk. From Qatar, Louna Bou Ghanem, 17, imagined a world free of cultural prejudice in her mixed media piece featuring a burqa and the words "Ceci n'est pas un masque" (This is not a mask), inspired by Rene Margritte's surrealist pipe painting. Another Qatari winner, Engy Hashem, reimagined street signs.
There were so many inspiring entries that Jameel says he is "proud" and "delighted" with the response. As for the outcome of the trip, it is yet to be seen what creative new ideas will be forged.
Alia Lootah, Untitled
The 25-year-old Emirati's piece is a self-portrait: a foam sculpture covered in leaves and seeds. "For me to reimagine my community, I first had to reimagine myself," she says. "The concept surrounds how I pursued what I wanted in life and how I made the decision to grow in a certain way and the message is that if each person does this, they will be in harmony with each other like leaves in nature."
Her ideas were formed after she graduated with a degree in PR and marketing from Zayed University in Dubai and questioned why she did not pursue a career in the arts. The seeds at the base of the sculpture depict her own growth and the importance of giving everyone space to find their own path.
Asma Alahmad, Chemical Romance
Alahmad created a short video using ephemeral materials to question her environment. Chemical Romance focuses on food colouring in milk and how the colour disperses when a drop of dish-soap falls in the liquid.
"In the video you can't tell what material I used," she explains. "That is deliberate because I like to use organic material and combine it with man-made products. This is my way of reimagining my environment because I grew up in a very fast-developing country and an artificial environment so, for my generation, it is hard to tell what is real and what is fake." Alahmad, who recently graduated from the University of Sharjah, says that the trip to the UK will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Nour Abuhayeh, Arab Youth
Arab Youth is a series of three posters representing the characteristics of Abuhayeh's community that she thinks are being overlooked. Using graphic design, she has taken a familiar pattern of the keffiyah to create three distinct images to represent voice, origin and youth.
"My main idea was inspired by Dubai, the city I grew up in. Here, there is nothing missing. We are on the highway of civilisation and exposed to everything around the world but we are creating a city that already exists - we are copying from everywhere else and losing our identity at the same time. Why would we do that when we already have youth that have a voice?"
Abuhayeh uses the example of the Arab Spring to underline her point that her generation is determined and has the ability to make a change. "As a region we can also be influential. We don't have to take from the West. We can use what we already have and make an impact. The smart thing is how to adapt."
Nadine Nour El Din, Kiosk
Originally designed for Sikka Art Fair, this installation is an exact replica of the street-side kiosks in Cairo and is a nod to the disappearing baqala or local groceries in the UAE. El Din, a designer at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai, created advertisement posters for the kiosk that gave blunt and satirical messages for the products. "It parodies consumerism," she explains. "It was also perfect for this competition because it was trying to reimagine the community."
El Din graduated in visual arts from the American University in Cairo and works with many media in her conceptual practice. She is hoping the trip to the UK will be like an artistic residency. "I'm sure it will have a huge impact on my artistic practice," she says.
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