into (public) space

I had this conversation with Steffi Bow yesterday about my linear journey through art from the world of academics and galleries to the freedom of public space and street art.

I’ve always drawn. Being the sister of a cartoonist who drew even more always than my always, drawing to me is something primeval and innate. Watching my mum doodle cubes on the phone book while she chatted on the phone, I’ve always had a curiosity about this thing we both do with our hands that comes so naturally.

I loved being an art student because it made you have to try everything. Installation, video, painting, printmaking. We had a gallery on campus and I regularly showed my work in it. From very early on in the academic world you’re sort of introduced to the gallery as the locale and home of art. The end goal for where we want it to end up. To want to become famous artists swarmed at their openings with the oohs and aahs of buyers. That’s the picture I grew up with.

When I painted my first mural at 17 as part of an internship for a company called Mural Routes in Toronto it was my first taste of a change of context and a change of function in art.

As I encountered more street art in Toronto and worked with children for community arts organizations I started to think about the social value of art. The way it moves and changes people. The way it affects us and has the power to change lives. When I moved to London and wrote my MA thesis on art in public spaces I fell in love with the magic of art in the public realm. The way buskers stopped people in their tracks and put a smile on their face. The way street art created places out of spaces. The way children had this innate uninhibited creativity we can only try to retain. I saw my first Roa off Brick Lane and it was love. When I moved back to Dubai I started showing in galleries but the eerie echoey spaces with the spot lights and white walls felt isolating. The artwork looked lonely and claustrophobic. I wanted my lines to run off the canvases on to the walls, on to the floor, on to the people standing in front of them. It wasn’t enough for them to speak, I wanted them to sing.

I also had a love for scale. For work that engulfs you. For art that was larger than life.

Through university I scribbled on walls and did 18 foot drawings on rolls of paper that went on and on and made up the walls of my little apartment. I think the speedbump I hit on the way to public space was not having access to walls in Dubai and being daunted by the spray can and the status of this other world. It takes a certain amount of courage to take on public space. All of this represented, to some extent, a rejection of the academic arts background I had come from which I appreciated but wasn’t suiting my work.

But the freedom. The thrill. The fulfillment everytime you paint a clean crisp line with a spray can is pretty immense. And leaving a piece in a public space that will go on to have its own journey and conversations, for people not to visit, but encounter, for magical moments you may never know about but that you created; I think I found where I belong.

(Published in Magpie magazine, January 2016) www.magpie.ae


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