Zara Mahmood: As a young child growing up in the UAE, I was an avid reader of the weekly publication ‘Young Times’. It featured a step by step guide by Dubai based artist Tina Ahmed on how to draw and paint different objects which I would follow diligently. At the age of 15, I attended my first exhibition of prints and it was then that I decided to be a printmaker. I attended the National College of Arts in Lahore where I majored in Printmaking, after which I pursued an MA in Fine Art from the University for the Creative Arts in the UK, with a major in Painting. I moved back to Dubai after my education and have been teaching at the American University in Dubai since along with maintaining my art practice, with my last show in the UAE being held at Maraya Art Centre in collaboration with UAE Unlimited in 2019.
Working in isolation has affected emerging artists in a unique way. Relying solely on an online platform to share the development of works lacks the tangible viewing experience that studio visits provide, an essential missing ingredient needed to develop an understanding of the works, and consequentially, instill a sense of familiarity and trust between the artist and audience.
The mode of production of my works over the last two years involved working with professional services. Adapting to the new working environment since March has meant coming up with creative ways to continue to make work. Initially, what felt like a limitation revealed itself as a challenge, almost like a residency that counts on sustaining artistic investigations, regardless of the basic nature of materials available in the studio. A certain sense of discipline is required in such a field and more so in the current unpredictable environment regardless of whether one is working towards a commitment or not. What becomes even clearer is the driving force in the ongoing journey of making, which is the need to express ideas and experiences in ways that have undergone evolution over time through thorough reflection and dialogue, and continuing to carry forth with the process of creating, which has been unsuccessful as many times as it has felt as being a step in the right direction, to forge a connection.
In the documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’, a colleague of the musician Rodriguez, whose whole life was tethered to anonymity until a surprise turn of events in his later years, describes his commitment to the creative process in a way that has stayed with me: ‘He’s like the silkworm. You take this raw material, you transform it and you come out with something that wasn’t there before. Something perhaps transcendent. Something perhaps eternal. In so far as he does that, I think he is representative of the human spirit, of what’s possible.’