Distracted by the temporary, because the permanent frightens me.

Salwa Ali

Yes, the title sound a little dramatic, but by the end of this post I’m pretty sure it’ll make sense to you.

When it comes to listing my inspiration, its tough deciding. Most times I find that I have already executed an art piece, without any research done. In a world where social media is always at our finger tips, scrolling down your instagram feed is a form of constant inspiration. Whether you were looking for it or not, by seeing art from all around the world at your finger tips, you are probably going to have some of your own ideas by the end of the feed. With your own touch, and a mix of everyone else’s, everyone plays a role at being part of your inspiration.

For that reason, for my last project, I forced myself to find inspiration that I would not come across my instagram. I went back to art history to see what inspired the ones before us. It was then when I finally read about Frida Kahlo. We’ve all seen her face, we all noticed the unibrow but most of us don’t know what inspired Frida Kahlo’s paintings. At least I didn’t until I did some research. Kahlo had come across an injury during her medical studies. After being bedridden, her mother had left her a canvas to keep her entertained, letting loose the prodigy we know today. What inspired Frida most was herself, as she found herself often alone, hence the self portraits. However, with the use of dramatic symbolism & bright colors, the influence of her Mexican culture was very apparent. Perhaps an unintentional inspiration?

The purpose of Frida’s introduction was to lead you to the following. At times regardless of what you think inspires you, there is always an extra element in your art that you may have not deliberately added. Ideas that you have overthought, or scenarios that you have lived over and over always find their way to your canvas, it’s inevitable.

Salwa Ali

On this last project, the objective was to self reflect. Digging deep often gets uncomfortable, however, is often necessary to create ‘good’ art.  Being born & raised in Saudi Arabia everything I am today is a product of that. Regardless of how attached I may be to this land, deep down I know I love Pakistan just as much, even if I may not relate to it in the same way. However, without the mix of culture I am often exposed to, I wouldn’t know what made me different. Nonetheless, different can often become a little tricky..

When i’m in Jeddah, my life at home, the way my parents raised me & many other things differs me from my Saudi friends. On the other hand, when I’m in Pakistan, the way I’ve grown up around arabs, my habits, my accent, even the way I think is different to those who live there. So in conclusion, when I’m in both places, I don’t perfectly fit in in either. At times I don’t know which place to call ‘home’. As cliche as this sounds, my heart says Jeddah but my mind forces me to digest it’s Pakistan.

Salwa Ali

The reason I say ‘forces’ is not because I don’t want to call it home, but rather having always seen it as a temporary home, when we visit family is just what I got used to. However, the truth is Jeddah is what is temporary, & heading back to Pakistan is just a matter of time. Due to legal regulations, the moment my father retires, he will no longer have a company sponsoring him here in Jeddah, hence our ticket back ‘home’.

For that reason, being loss between cultures often acts as an extra tone of paint on my canvas. Often it is the only shade on my canvas.

For 20 plus years, I’ve heard my father tell me to be grateful for the time we’ve got to spend here. Grateful for the lifestyle, & lessons we’ve learned, that we may or may not have learned back home. However, I find myself constantly fearing the day we have to go back. The day we actually have to deal with the political situations of the country, rather than just having to read them in a news paper. Until then I am in denial, I am going around in circles, keeping myself distracted by the temporary, because the permanent frightens me.

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Photographs dated February 2015.

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“Just the way I saw him, 365 days ago.”

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Epiphany?
As a pessimist I have to admit the following. Regardless of how blessed and thankful I am, a part of me still looks for a reason to live another day. All 365 days of the year, I constantly go over my mental bucket list on which only one item is crossed off. That one item being ‘cross one thing off your bucket list’ should give you an idea of where I’m going with this.. However, on my last trip to Pakistan, I realized how extravagant my ‘reasons to live’ were in comparison to the small blessings I am bestowed on a daily basis. Small reasons, that I have taken completely for-granted, which at any moment could be taken away from me! Numerous realizations followed, however the most interesting part is how I came to these realizations.

Deja Vu:
6 o clock sharp an old fashioned horn went off. As if the feeling of déjà vu, I rushed to the balcony of our little apartment. I tried to get the lock on my window to open but it was rusted shut from the last time we had visited. I put on my shoes & ran outside to get a better look; that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t déjà vu, it was the rush of realizations. There stood the same boy who had been delivering bread to us the last year we visited. The same boy, as though oblivious to the changes going on in the world around him, still stood tall. This boy had not even aged! The few strands of hair on his chin still remained freshly trimmed & his shalwaar kamiz just as starched as the last time I saw him, 365 days ago.

Prioritise:
The children around him had grown taller, but just as rude as before. This time they had siblings, half their height as though carbon copies of their elders. He still responded to them with just as much love, as though he did this for them. For him, all he needed was these kids looking up to him! Instantly the energy to live another day would be reimbursed. With huge bags hanging from his little Honda, he carefully picked out local chocolate bars of their choices, but the light in the children’s eyes could not even compare to his. At that moment, it was quite obvious how counting your blessings is just as important as prioritizing them.

Unemployment in Pakistan:
At times one must realize it is not what you do for a living, as long as you enjoy it. However, with the pacing rate of unemployment, many are left struggling. One of the main reasons behind this, is the uncontrolled growth of the population. The population of Pakistan is growing at an insane rate, hence logically there aren’t that many opportunities available. Some believe the reason behind this pace is due to early marriages, lack of awareness & illiteracy. Despite the uncountable schools on every street, some factors caused by corruption do not allow for a fair education system. Therefore, those that have gained their degrees through unofficial systems, are granted the jobs of those who deserved them.

SalwaAli

Content?
For that reason with such little opportunities available, at times many find themselves in a constant battle to be happy. On the other hand, for the blessed, knowing about the numerous opportunities available around the globe can also cause unsatisfactory to their current stage of life. So frankly, it does not matter whether you have it all, or if you don’t, you will always find yourself in the same battles. It’s those that make the most of them, that remain content.

All photos taken by yours truly!

 July 2014

Critical Thinking @ Tate St. Ives

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At our critical thinking workshop at Tate St Ives, things took quite a turn for me! Artist Greg Humphries completely caught me off guard when he asked me not only to sketch the person sitting next to me in under 30 seconds, but to use my opposite hand to do so! Forget about drawing, even gripping the pencil in my left hand was quite a challenge. Errors were easy to make and with only 30 seconds to spare, there wasn’t any time to erase my mistakes!

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It is quite intriguing to notice that when you draw with your comfortable hand, what you plan in your mind isn’t what usually shows up on paper. However that was absolutely not the case with my left hand. With the pressure of Greg’s voice counting down every second and constantly having to re-grip my pencil, what showed up on my sheet of paper was not even close to what I imagined in my mind… It was better.

The objective of the workshop was for us to realize the importance of mistakes. Struggling to stay comfortable with art is probably the first mistake an aspiring artist can make, and then removing all the evidence of past errors the second.

By the end of the workshop I openly confessed to Greg how from that day onwards I was going to start sketching, however uncomfortably, with my left hand. I had finally become comfortable with my own mistakes and vowed to try and never be ashamed of them again. He looked right at me, smiled and told me: “You shall go a very long way in life.” Just thinking back to that brings me goose bumps. The fact that someone so successful can give an amateur artist like me such great hope in just a couple of seconds.

Having been exposed to so many different artists and styles of art, such as Damien Hirst, Alex Katz, and Tracey Emin and then visiting artists all over East London, seeing the different ways they express themselves through their art, really proved to me how there isn’t just one path for an artist to take. It helped give me an insight into new ways of looking at art. When you look at an artwork, it may not mean anything to you, but once you learn about the artist’s background, all the elements in their art begin to make sense.

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Watch the excerpts of the workshop here!
http://www.offscreenexpedition.com/2012_uk/home/episode/film-3-value-of-creativity