x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

In the studio with Lama Khatib Daniel

As part of our continuing series on artists in their studio, we visit Lama Khatib Daniel, a Jordanian-Palestinian illustrator who works in Dubai.

The artist Lama Khatib Daniel at her studio in her home in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
The artist Lama Khatib Daniel at her studio in her home in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

Propped up against the wall in Lama Khatib Daniel’s living room is a large blackboard upon which guests are encouraged to scribble. She herself, gripped by a sudden bout of inspiration, can turn to it whenever she needs to.

Flanked by emotion-filled pencil drawings framed on the wall and across from smaller pieces from her newest collection, her space is clearly the home of someone artistically minded.

It is also her place of practice. In a small room, towards the back of the spacious apartment and with magnificent views over the skyline, Khatib Daniel takes her pencil to paper and immerses herself in her art.

“My art is my sanctuary, I come to it when I need to meditate and to feel a solid ground,” says the Jordanian-Palestinian artist. “You won’t find me in my studio when I am happy, dancing or singing and not thinking about anything at all.

“A lot of the time I have a nostalgic feeling deep in my heart and I feel a longing to express it. Then I come to my studio, I put on a song, get inside of it and run away to this refuge of art.”

Such a burst of expression and passion is not unusual for this petite artist when it comes to her work. She says it’s partly because she spent 10 years of her life working as an art director for an advertising agency in Dubai, ignoring an innate desire to create art herself.

“Somehow my path took me away from art and into art direction,” she explains. “It started in my early 20s when I worked in an animation studio in Amman. Then I moved to a bigger studio, where I did TV work and later I moved to illustration at an advertising agency.”

When she moved to Dubai, 15 years ago, she took the post as art director. “I loved the atmosphere of advertising but something was burning inside of me. Whenever I looked at a painting or a drawing and saw an artist dedicated to their task, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Finally, when the recession hit in 2008, she dedicated herself to her art full-time and has never looked back. By letting her art take over her professional life, she also let it seep into her home.

“Prior to having my own studio at home I created this corner in the living room that slowly grew out of control. The canvases were living with us and there were brushes everywhere, so we had to get a bigger place,” she says.

Since taking the plunge into full-time art, Khatib Daniel has been exhibited in Ghaf Gallery in Abu Dhabi and Courtyard Gallery, Tashkeel and Marsam Mattar in Dubai. Her work is characterised by faces, the culmination of a lifelong obsession with human features.

“Since I was a child I have been attracted to the face,” she explains. “I have always loved passport pictures particularly. It is because in those, you are not smiling, laughing or doing anything; it is just the face, serious and very pure. The face is a whole world on its own.”

Her latest work, The Sunny Series, comprises her trademark pencil drawings of faces with very serious expressions, all wearing sunglasses. “We are always hiding behind our emotions,” she says. “The glasses mean we cannot see and that we are shutting ourselves from the outside world and into our own world.”

Although her pieces are beautiful, they are also quite subversive and question an inner dialogue that might not always be obvious at first impression.

“I sometimes feel like a bird trapped in a body and I want to express myself,” she muses. “I guess you can see that in some of my work.”

Some of her larger pieces will be produced in limited-edition print format for the forthcoming exhibition of Capsule Arts in September. She hopes this will help her work reach a wider audience.

“I don’t have a message, but somehow I have a philosophy and a dream,” she says. “I just draw what I like and project my emotions into the art. If someone feels something while looking at my art, whether it is happiness, melancholy or nostalgia, then my work is done.”

On a broader level, she says she hopes that art can positively affect people. “There is a lot of pain in the world, especially in the Arab world, and I think people need to know there is art – there needs to be more volume to people who think differently and people who do good things and positive things. I think if that was the case, the world would be a better place.”


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