x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The work of Dubai-based artist Hadil Moufti reflects her life in multiple countries

Hadil Moufti is a Saudi artist who completely breaks the mould – in her work there are no politics, no burqas and no Arab references.

The Saudi Arabian painter Hadil Moufti in her studio in the Al Fahidi neighbourhood of Dubai, with two of her works based on a photo of her niece. Lee Hoagland/The National
The Saudi Arabian painter Hadil Moufti in her studio in the Al Fahidi neighbourhood of Dubai, with two of her works based on a photo of her niece. Lee Hoagland/The National

Prior to moving to Dubai two years ago, Hadil Moufti’s home was London, where she lived close to Hampstead Heath and developed an almost emotional relationship with the trees.

With that in mind, it is easy to see why she hated Dubai when she first arrived.

“It was a shock,” she recalls. “I missed my forest and my friends.”

And it was in that order.

Moufti, however, is no stranger to the region. She is the daughter of a Saudi diplomat and, although she was shuttled around from continent to continent, spending her last years of high school in India before studying fine arts at Parsons School of Design in Paris, she eventually moved back to Jeddah to her family home.

But soon after that she married and moved to London, where she spent the next 16 years and not only found her forest, but her feet as an artist.

Having spent her childhood with her nose buried in a book, Moufti was often lost in the fairy-tale realms of her imagination and the nature around her seemed to suit that.

“I became fascinated with the trees and I also became part of a real community of artists in north-west London. It was lovely.”

During that time she painted trees and forests in shades of blues, greens and yellows in a quest to capture the spirit of her imaginary worlds.

After relocating to Dubai for her husband’s job, the first thing she did was find herself a studio. When she secured a spot in the tranquil Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood near the Dubai Creek, she began the next series of her paintings – all done in red.

A prolific painter, Moufti set to painting animals, many birds and a series including elephants and rhinos in black and white on vivid red backgrounds.

“I don’t know why I chose red, it was just time for red,” she says. “I love messing with paints, making different colours and textures. If you look closely at my work, you will see there are many shades of red in there.”

When Sharon Harvey, the founder of Showcase Gallery on Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, stumbled across Moufti’s studio during a chance visit, she immediately connected with it, and offered Moufti her first solo show in the city.

My Universe of Imaginary Creatures recently closed at the end of June and as well as the African power animals, there was a series of scarab beetles, perhaps implying the strength of insects.

But tucked away in her studio is the Maryam series, which Moufti began last September after years of contemplating a photograph she took of her niece in her pre-teen years.

In these ambiguous pieces, Moufti has taken the image of her niece’s face and repeated it constantly across canvases, in paper chains, on hanging dice and on storyboards so that the image becomes anonymous – no longer about the impressionable tween but about the struggle we all undertake when coming of age.

“I don’t think there is ever an explanation or an answer for my works but there is a human sense of a search in them,” she says. “They are also about having fun.”

The Maryam idea has been replicated with Laila, Moufti’s own daughter, and there are a few featuring her son.

They are playful, they are repetitive and they also dreamlike – a trademark that underlines Moufti’s entire practice.

Although she has just enjoyed a successful exhibition and has made a name for herself as a respected contemporary artist, for Moufti, the work is all about the process.

“For me, walking into my studio is the smell of happiness and, not only that, I feel privileged to be able to have this space and work at my own pace and in my own sphere. This is what it is all about for me and I hope people appreciate it.”

• For more information, visit www.hadilmoufti.com

aseaman@thenational.ae