Creating Art From Community: An Artist-in-Residence’s Journey
My six-month artist residency with the Al Qasimi Foundation was truly a journey. It not only gave me the opportunity to challenge my creativity but taught me the value of cultural exchange. As an Egyptian-Bahraini artist based in Dubai, I often took inspiration from urban art, weaving together motifs from Arab and western influences. For that reason, I wanted to explore and understand more about the rich culture of the northern emirates. The Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program enabled me to develop my practice beyond the confines of my typical work setting. I was encouraged to engage with an unfamiliar part of the UAE, the community and people of Ras al Khaimah, and allow that experience to inform my practice. Apart from gathering research and creating artworks, I also gained a second home, met genuine people, and established friendships that left an imprint on my life.
My goal in the first few weeks was to research and learn from the new environment I was in, allowing myself to be inspired by local elements. I wanted to collaborate with local artisans to better understand the process of their ancestral handicrafts. It was important for me to learn more about the history and heritage of Emirati crafts because of how much pride the people I met had in their skills. I wanted to represent that pride in my work and share their craft with new, contemporary audiences. As such, I visited the city’s Souq and explored Ras Al Khaimah’s natural environment and tribal routes in the desert, mountain, and sea, meeting with tribal craftswomen from Al Jeer and listening to incredible stories from divers in the Suwaidi Pearl Farm. Through these encounters, I had access to unique, wonderous source material and narratives that helped facilitate my creative process.
Some of my favorite pieces I created during my residency were the artworks I painted on Khoos. The palm tree is the foundation for many beautiful handicrafts of the UAE. Khoos is an ancestral craft that used the leaves of the palm tree in a traditional weaving technique to create products including surood, circular mats for food; makabah, used to cover and protect food; jefeer, a basket for carrying dates; and mahafah, a fan for cooling oneself or fanning a flame. It is the backbone of local artistry. As a contemporary artist, I wanted to find creative ways to incorporate this rich handicraft of the past into my practice. Using the Khoos as a painting surface, I created the trio of artworks titled Bil Yad (By Hand), which represented the step-by-step process behind Khoos weaving. By painting on new, unconventional material, I was able to portray the skill behind Ras Al Khaimah craftswomen and garner the opportunity to experiment with and learn about my own process.
Through the AIR program, I created a body of work that promoted a visual narrative of the Gulf region and which concluded with an exhibition at the 10th annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival titled RE-LIVING: An Homage to Old Traditions in Modern Society. The residency contributed to my creative growth, including exploring my artistic practice and showcasing my work while fostering relationships among foundation staff members and the Ras Al Khaimah community. I came to realize that the Al Qasimi Foundation’s AIR program is a non-formal art education experience that serves as a relational framework for artists and their residency community. It’s an opportunity I would undertake again, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Applications for the 2022 Artist-in-Residence program are open until June 1.
Perryhan El Ashmawi is an Egyptian-Bahraini visual artist based in Dubai. Inspired by the innovative styles of contemporary and urban art, her work interweaves motives from Arab and western culture. She was the Foundation’s Artist-in-Residence from September 2021 to February 2022.