When the word ‘art’ springs to mind, what do you think of? A large open space with paintings behind stanchions and signs saying, ‘DO NOT TOUCH’? Well, this couldn’t be further removed from Zeinab Alhashemi’s work. The 33-year-old Emirati is a conceptual artist, designer and art director who wants people to actually be involved in her pieces. Rather than just passively look, you are encouraged to touch, study, and even walk across them.
“I’ve always liked the idea of getting outside the gallery,” she explains. “I like the kind of public art presence in my work. I think visually I’m able to create things that grab attention.” She’s certainly grabbed the attention of big brands. Her collaborations read like a who’swho of luxury, with the likes of Hermès and Swarovski on the list. Last year, she even created an abstract game of rock, paper, scissors for Tiffany & Co.’s Paper Flowers collection.
Zeinab is making waves within the art world too, having exhibited everywhere from Shanghai to London and Washington DC. Closer to home she’s involved in all the major art fairs, including Art Dubai, Sharjah Biennial and Tashkeel, which she credits as being a big supporter of her generation of Emirati artists.
But despite her raw talent and hard work, Zeinab’s ﬁrst foray into the art scene was far from traditional. In 2009, a car accident conﬁ ned her to the house. “While I was recovering, I wasn’t physically ﬁ t to get a job,” she tells us. “I guess this is what got me into making art because it ﬁ lled my mind and my time. I was able to do it while I was at home.” Post-trauma, she started to look at her life from a new perspective, bringing about her very own sort of Renaissance Period.
Just a year later she was displaying her work in public. “I think the scene was ﬂ ourishing. It was the very beginning. There was a lot of opportunities given to young artists,” she says, adding that as nobody would critique the art, it left a lot of room to play with new ideas.
All of this has made Zeinab the creative she is today, and she thinks of her pieces as an ongoing experimentation between what is contemporary art and what is design. “I think those lines have become very blurry to me,” she explains. It’s easy to see why. The prodigious proportions of her pieces often require her to work with multiple people, in different warehouses and workshops, to see a project through to completion. This process can take a whole year.
With huge scales and huge timeframes, no two days are the same. She’s worked with craftsmen, labour workers, carpenters and fabrication studios to pull off her projects. “Honestly, it doesn’t end. Sometimes one piece needs to be done in three different workshops. I’ve developed a sense of welcoming the right people to be part of this journey.”
Zeinab's installation piece. Meta-Morphic (2018)
Photography by Zeinab Art
When pressed for more detail, she uses a Swarovski piece she did for Dubai Design Week as an example: “I was in Dubai, Swarovski Lab was in Austria, the team were in Hong Kong, and the fabrication studio was in London. So we’re talking four cities. It requires a lot of teamwork, and the ability to understand and communicate. There has to be a lot of trust in people.”
With that said, good networking and interpersonal skills are utterly paramount. In order to hold a space she is working with commissioners, project managers and curators behind the scenes. And she’s using all that experience to help others. “I’ve built up my company which will eventually become an art brand,” she says. As well as assisting artists to source materials and design projects, Zeinab is trying to make art a more accessible career path. She wants to “create a practical model so other artists can build a career while having a sustainable income; without them having the need to work full-time in another job.”
And as for Zeinab’s own artwork, there are big things in the works – pun intended. As the Artist in Residence of San Francisco’s SETI Institute, she’s working with scientists on “understanding the existence of geometry in the world and outer space.” She isn’t able to say much more than that as it’s still early days, but when presented with the idea that it sounds as though she’s going to display work on Mars, she laughs. “Let’s see! Maybe we can do that through Dubai. You never know.” Whatever the future holds for Zeinab, the sky most certainly isn’t the limit.
ZEINAB’S CAREER TIPS BY NUMBERS
1. STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
In today’s world, everything already exists, so it can be challenging to be innovative. But if you keep it safe the chances of you making something extraordinary are very low.
2. TAKE ADVICE
A lot of artists can become very stubborn about certain things, and they miss out on the chance to learn.
I highly recommend meditating with the intention of ﬁ nding yourself through your work.
4. BE ORGANISED
As a creative person, your mind can jump to many ideas. It’s one thing to think of an idea but it’s another to make it a reality.
5. GET HELP
As artists, we often don’t have the best business mindset. I understood that more through collaborating.
Photography by Jessica Samson
Words by Sarah Garden