Ebtisam Abdulaziz is an active Emirati contemporary artist, in the United Arab Emirates scene. Represented by The Third Line gallery in Dubai, she offers conceptual art, inspired by the minimalist movement of the 60s. Art Media Agency interviewed her to find out more about her ambitions and the difficulties a female artist in the Middle East can meet, and to have a better understanding of the contemporary scene in this part of the world.
AMA: You have a diploma in Mathematics and Science. At what point did you decide you wanted to turn to art?
E: I guess it started when I was a child. I used to love art and reading, and my dream was to become an artist. Unfortunately, when I finished high school, I couldn’t get the chance to study art, since there was no art college in the UAE. I decided to get a degree in math because it is an interesting subject to me, and I believe art and math are connected to each other on so many levels.
I started my real career as an artist in 1999, when I came back from Al Ain. That was when I joined the Emirates Fine Arts Society to practice art.
AMA: Have you ever studied any artistic mediums or received help from people close to you, when you started to approach different artistic mediums?
E: Yes, I joined drawing courses at the Fine Arts Society, and I practiced painting using acrylic, soft pastel and oil colors. When I started my journey in art, I became very close to a group of artists and learned a lot from them, especially artists like Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Kazem, Abdullah Alsaadi and Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim. These artists are close friends and we work together and support each other.
To be very honest, I am self-taught. I read a lot, did my own research, read about art history and find my own way to conceptual art through my studies.
I am still learning and getting more experience. I joined workshops that nurtured my growth as an artist, writer and curator, as I believe knowledge has no limit and you can never learn enough.
AMA: Which artists do you admire, and who has inspired you and your work?
E: Internationally, I would say Sol LeWitt, especially his systematic artwork, which is more related to my mathematical and geometrical art work.
And also Yves Klein. He inspired me a lot, in terms of conceptual and performance art.
Locally, I would say Hassan Sharif. I love his way of thinking, his personality, his humbleness and his wisdom. He played a huge role in establishing the conceptual art movement in the UAE. I always learn new things from him whenever I talk to him. And I had a great support from him when I started to change my art style from painting to conceptual art.
AMA: Is it difficult being a female artist in the Middle East? Are there many female artists in the United Arab Emirates and do you happen to personally know any?
E: My answer is yes and no. I guess there is not a big difference nowadays between male or female. On the other hand, if a woman needs to be in the art scene, she has to be strong enough to survive, especially when it comes to the very modern art. An example here for me as an Emirati Muslim woman: I need to be very careful when I’m working on any performance or public project, as I can’t cross the line. Sometimes it is not very easy.
The number of female artists in the UAE is growing – and there are actually twice as many female artists as male – although not all known yet. I do know many of them and we work together often.
AMA: Are you working on any future projects, solo or collective exhibitions, preparing something new?
E: Yes, as a full-time artist, I’m always working towards new projects whether in writing, producing art or even curating exhibitions. I’m currently working on a solo show, Inshallah, for next year.
AMA: What do you think about the current art market in the UAE? Is it difficult for you to fit into this market, or the international market?
E: I think it’s something good for the artists and cultural communities. However, for us, as conceptual artists who produce large-scale work, it is not really easy to fit into this market. Most of the time, those markets will target colorful and pretty paintings, which are far from the concept of minimalism.
AMA: Regarding all of your work, and the issues within your work, would you consider yourself unique compared to other UAE artists? In other words, do you share certain similarities with your colleagues, for instance a similar aesthetic or common ideas of UAE contemporary art?
E: I can say that my art is somehow unique, especially when it comes to the systematic art greatly influenced by mathematics. Since none of the artist in the UAE are using the subject of math as an element to produce an artwork, I enjoy being the one to have initiated the addition of a new element to my work.
Yes, we share some issues that we discussed with other artists, but the result will be different since every artist has their way to change an issue into a piece of art. We found out that a lot of artists use environmental issues in their work, but the medium will be different, depending on the artist.
AMA: And lastly, what do you think of contemporary art today?
E: I believe that today’s art is too conceptual. There is sensibility: it describes what an artist goes through. As contemporary art is now more important in the market than older more traditional art, I think it’s more of a documentation of the daily life, which is a great thing.
Each art work has a significant key that helps the viewers or the audience to learn more, and it could be another way to learn and also to get involved in it, especially when it comes to live performances and contemporary art. It also deals with a more universal feeling.
Interview with Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Emirati artist, represented by the Third Line gallery in Dubai.