Dubai skyline by Madeleine Kurtsdotter.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens, is rolling out a special edition of Project Art — an interactive initiative designed to empower Dubai’s burgeoning art community — to commemorate the UAE’s 50th National Day. The initiative’s sixth instalment sees Swedish contemporary artist Madeleine Kurtsdotter spotlight Emirati culture and heritage (Nov. 28 - Dec. 12).Known for her experimental work with colours, textures and shapes, and her passion for exciting contrasts, Kurtsdotter’s exhibition showcases a series of masterpieces that pay tribute to the UAE.
A live painting experience also took place on November 29, enabling visitors to see the artist in action in the hotel’s lobby. She mostly works with mixed techniques, combining acrylic, oil and natural material. But she also finds pleasure in working with aquarelle, collages and illustrations. She has studied various art techniques, as well as graphic design and illustration at the reputed Berghs School of Communication in Sweden. But for the most part, she sees herself as a self-taught artist.
Kurtsdotter has previously exhibited work in galleries, shows and public places in Sweden, France, Belgium and the UAE. Commissioned by the United Nations, she is currently exhibited at the UN Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. She answers Gulf Today’s questions. You seem to have a liking for colour. Why? I always try to see the world from the bright side, even during hard times. Bold colours give me hope and make me feel good. I am also easily inspired by my surroundings. When I still lived in Sweden, I used more earth tones, less vivid colours.
But once I moved to Dubai in 2015, my paintings became more and more colourful. The eternal blue sky, the bustling textile and spice souks and all colourful people here inspire me every day. There is nothing Western in your art — it is all about the East. Comment please? I am very easily inspired by life around me. Here in the UAE, there are so many beautiful people from all around the world that amaze me. The fantastic mix of Emirati people and expats of all colours. The nature and wildlife are also very different from Northern Europe, where I come from. I am especially intrigued by the sea and the Emirati camels, so cool and majestic at the same time. Did you have to radically switch your artistic template to understand Middle East art culture? I appreciate Middle East art a lot and really like its rich culture.
But apart from switching my artistic template to more bold colours and more local motives, I like to keep my own signature style, which is clean distinct colours, dots, patterns, golden details and clear lines. Showing how I, a Scandinavian expat, interpret Middle Eastern culture. Who are the artists that inspire you and why? I admire Marc Chagall for his emotional and poetic associations — and Andy Warhol for his creative pop art style. But at the moment, I find most of the artists that really inspire me in my work, on Instagram. African artists, so playful with bold colours, patterns and motives, are my favourites, such as @blvckvrtist, @saidou_dicko, @borisanje as well as Egyptian artist @mohammed.artwork and Lebanese artist @alihassoun64. How has travel influenced your work? Travelling to new places and exploring new cultures and surroundings is immensely inspiring. I have had the chance to travel the world and have lived in many countries.
I first started to use bold colours when living in France, where life seemed more bustling than in Sweden. When travelling in Australia, I fell in love with Aboriginal Art and picked up my dotting technique from there. So each of them have added a lot to my inspirational suitcase. What role does Nature play in your compositions? Nature has always been important in my works. I am currently working on a series with trees, where I experiment with the simple form of trunks. Giving them different colours and patterns and placing them in different surroundings. Since I moved to Dubai, I have also made a lot of playful paintings of camels; this cool animal is so hard to resist! You are qualified as a graphic designer — does it have a link to your work? I used to work as a graphic designer, and I think that my clean and distinct colours and forms come from this. In my early years as an artist, I was more into abstract art and used a lot of letters and numbers in my paintings. Definitely, a reminder of my graphic designer background. What is the message you hope to convey through your art? Happiness. Hope. Love. Playfulness. Even if I have a bad day, feeling down, I choose my motives and paint in bold happy colours, to help me feel better.
And I hope that my audience feels the same. When I recently was commissioned a painting by the UN, on climate change, I chose a positive message and used colours and details symbolising hope. Even though climate change is a very serious matter, I feel that we need hope and strength to be able to strive for a better future. Tell us your thoughts on the art ecology of the UAE? From my understanding of the question, I would say that the role of art in the UAE seems to grow every day, which is amazing. I can see how interactions between arts organisations and artists as well as audiences are evolving, and how art has taken a greater place in Emirati society.
This is of course great for me as an artist, as I see more possibilities to exhibit and showcase my work. A win-win situation of course, as Dubai and the UAE get to attract a wider audience with their new, growing cultural focus. How does Emirati art compare to its Swedish counterpart? If we are talking about modern art, I would say that many Emirati artists seem more inspired by Nature, architecture and culture, while Swedish artists today often are seeking to inspire to debate social shifts and values with their works. Colour palettes also differ a lot, where Swedish artists generally use more earth tones and softer nuances than their Emirati counterparts.
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