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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

How Dubai artist Sheikha Wafa bint Hasher Al Maktoum uses patterns from nature to complete her artwork

In the words of Sheikha Wafa bint Hasher Al Maktoum, to quote Meem Gallery’s introduction to her work, “a horse is no longer a horse”. What were perhaps once ears, are repeated as jagged geometric shapes fanning out into a circular shape in the centre of her screen-printed image.

The animal’s legs, or what could resemble the legs, follow a similar pattern, curling around the circular pattern in repetition.

The image takes the form of a mandala, the Sanskrit word for circle, and in fact bears absolutely no resemblance to a horse. The title is the only thing that indicates the original image from which the mandala was formed – and that is precisely the point. The horse is a motif to relay a particular feeling or focus.

Sheikha Wafa’s artworks will go on display at a show called Seamless Loop, which opens this month at Meem Gallery in Dubai.

“In essence, Sheikha Wafa reduces an icon or symbol to its most simple form, transforming it into a stylised version of its former self,” according to the gallery’s introductory statement.

In choosing the images, Sheikha Wafa looked for what she calls “typical, classically UAE symbols”, and turned them into something completely different.

“These are everyday things I see around my city, and it is easy for people to ignore them. Making them into art, each symbol represents something different,” she says. So the horse becomes completely abstract and open to interpretation. She gives seven other symbols the same treatment. The camel, falcon, fish, Arabian leopard, palm tree and gazelle are all broken down and reinterpreted in her individual way.

Given the circular, geometric format she has chosen, and the kaleidoscopic designs, the pieces are also easy to reflect upon.

The mandala has roots in meditative practice and the circular symbol has become synonymous with eastern culture. Sheikha Wafa shrugs off any kind of pigeonholing when it comes to this design.

“I do not refer to my designs as religious or spiritual geometric patterns,” she says. “I enjoy making repeated patterns and playing with geometric shapes. The process of creating these patterns is endless and limitless, as are the interpretations someone can draw from them.” The screen-prints in this show are accompanied by interesting textile pieces featuring the same images. The fabric used for each work was specially selected to represent a part of the work – netting for the fish, for example, and raw silk as bark for the palm.

Discussing the process, Sheikha Wafa referred to the creation of the textile works as akin to painting, placing colour and textile where she felt it belonged, removing or altering fabrics when she felt they didn’t fit.

The physicality of the process was also extremely attractive to Sheikha Wafa: sitting for long hours with tailors, working over the stretched linen, and creating screen-prints.

As an established graphic designer, she used the creation of this body of work as a way to combine her skills in design with her interests as a fine artist, merging both disciplines.

Sheikha Wafa has, in fact, always had an interest in both these fields.

In 2009, she founded FN Designs, a gallery and design studio in Alserkal Avenue, and has since curated several exhibitions and participated in group shows.

She says that whether she is participating or organising, each exhibition is special.

“If it is solo show that I have curated at FN Designs, or a group exhibition that I have participated in, the feeling is the same,” she says. “Every opening is an opportunity to go one step further, which is always a good feeling.”

And the real beauty of the work is that like any good feeling, it is better experienced in person. Standing in front of the mandalas, taking in the image, the texture, material, and abstracted shapes, and knowing the several weeks of work that go into each piece, viewers can feel themselves transported to another place

“Once I have made the artworks, it is up to the viewer to interpret them in whatever way they wish,” says Sheikha Wafa. “My job is done when I put the final stroke on the canvas, or in this case the final thread on the piece.”

Seamless Loop will run from September 26 until October 30 at Meem Gallery in Dubai. Visit www.meemartgallery.com

aseaman@thenational.ae