Nature is one of Zara Antoinette Kennedy’s favourite subjects.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
As account executive with a leading public relations company in Dubai, Zara Antoinette Kennedy’s work involves close engagement with events and media relations with some of the biggest brands in the Emirates.
She is one of the anonymous but enabling forces behind many landmark art happenings in Dubai and like many others in her line of work, she does not speak for herself – she allows her professional work to do so. But Kennedy, it turned out, was also an artist herself! On continuous prompting, she spoke about her life as an art practitioner. For the first time, she sheds her invisibility and discusses her art.
As an artist, you seem to have wide and ranging inspirations. Is that so?
Having been encouraged by my parents with colours and brushes at a young age, the artist in me began to take shape from the age of three onwards. My father, late Eslen Wayne Kennedy, was not only a chef by profession, but also a talented artist and sculptor and a huge source of inspiration for me. As an artist, I would like to think of my art as the kind that transcends binaries of eastern and western cultures. An amalgamation of art forms, not being tied to one school of art, makes me explore various formats and mediums. My compositions that are inspired by nature are a blend of realism and symbolism, or what my mother, Karen Michelle Kennedy, likes to describe as “finding perfection in the imperfect.” Women’s roles have also deeply inspired my abstract portraits of women’s faces. My work with charcoal is often a dialogue between confluence and free flow - something that Irish artist Sean Scully has described as the “battle between system and emotion.”
Nature seems to have made a mark on your art side …
Most certainly, my art illustrates the immense beauty that surrounds us in Nature. As a young artist, I had set my sights on finding perfection in Nature. But with the passage of time, my focus transitioned to creating more realistic – and perhaps not so perfect forms — of Nature. I vividly remember one of my art lessons with my professor who interpreted Nature to me as intricate, faulty and hence, natural. Therefore, in my exploration of flowers, landscapes and birds, I have leaned more towards the organic instead of the ideal.
Sometimes, your work seems childlike, at others, it seems highly mature. Is this correct?
Art is subjective. Having begun my journey with art at the tender age of three, I would like to think that the age of the artist also decides the art. Childlike, in my opinion, is something that allows me to act out my emotions with the purpose of being intentionally innocent. Artists mature slowly and their art evolves through many phases and experiences. This has certainly held true for me.
Which is your preferred medium: pen and ink, charcoal on paper or acrylic on canvas?
During my initial years as an artist, I had a preference for pen and pencil sketches. I gradually moved to the boldness of chiaroscuro with charcoal paintings and eventually found my way with the versatility of acrylic paintings. I must admit that I cherish acrylic painting because it allows the freedom to delve into the nuances of art. Its vibrancy and exuberance allows me to work with emotive, expressive brush strokes.
How do you find the time — if you find the time — for art, since you have a full-time job?
I generally seek out the weekends to practice, for at least three to four hours consecutively. When I am deeply engrossed in art, I find it comfortingly therapeutic, as I tap into a sense of tranquillity and calm. Additionally, it is a source of meditation to me, where I ruminate on nothing but my art.
What are the qualities you wish you had as an artist?
Among the several qualities that personify artists, flexibility and the ability to observe perspective, is a quality that I aim to refine. I would also like to experiment with watercolour and coffee beans as mediums of art, and investigate the use of various other surfaces and objects as bases for acrylics. Additionally, I am beginning to interrogate objects more closely, which will help me possess deeper knowledge about them.
Has the Emirates influenced your artistic thinking?
The United Arab Emirates is home to a burgeoning art scene with many galleries and exhibitions by local and international artists. I utilise my holidays to explore the city’s bustling arts and cultural hubs. From the idyllic souks of Old Dubai to the contemporary architectural marvels of structures such as Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, the UAE offers an abundance of artistic inspiration. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, to give another example, is reminiscent of the Emirate’s historic culture and a convergence of numerous traditions.
How do you see yourself as an artist ten years hence?
As I grow into the individual I envision myself to be, I would like my art to depict my progression from that of a young adult to one who is more mature and wiser. I would like to reach new heights of artistic capabilities and want my art to reflect the people I have met, the places I have visited and the love that I have experienced. Consequently, an overall holistic representation of myself.
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