We sat down with the brilliant Fathima Mohiuddin, an Indian Canadian artist, born and raised in UAE, to find out about her journey in starting one of Dubai’s first community art projects 6 years ago, and how she’s used Art to interact with different underrepresented communities around the world.
I was born and raised in Dubai. My parents are Indian, they eloped to Dubai 37 years ago. When I was 17 I immigrated to Canada. I’ve always drawn. My brother is a cartoonist and we grew up with comics and illustration in books so it was always a big part of our lives. I think when our parents were getting divorced we took a stronger passion for art as it was something that helped us cope with what was going on in our lives.
At university I did a BA in Art and Culture and became really interested in how art connects with a society. Its functions outside of commodity and aesthetic. How it affects people and helps them. I worked with a few community arts organizations in Toronto and painted my first mural there when I was 17 and then moved to London to do an MA in London in sociology.
In London I got more excited about art in public spaces and street art in particular. Everything from street art to buskers. How they impact space and affect people and the dynamic between the public realm and art. It was a context that came with a certain element of freedom that I was drawn to. It was accessible, inclusive and relevant to every day people. And that’s what I wrote my dissertation on.
Eventually I moved back to Dubai and started The Domino. After a few rocky events in my life, street art’s given me some sense of purpose and worth and freedom from circumstances as well as an identity of my own outside of my cultural confusion. That’s why I love it. And I think my background in fine art and sociology and that quest for social and human relevance have in some organic way led to it.
I think my work is a personal process of finding freedom, humanity, magic in a chaotic, intimidating and often dehumanizing world. Lately I’ve become really interested in mythology, symbols of things that resonate with all people through stories told by birds. Like hope. Like perseverance and heroism. Things that talk about the human spirit and what connects us. A little romance in a fast paced world paired with a bit of honest tragedy. I do a fair bit of research into stories, themes associated with what I paint and find a way to connect with it.
I love the process. That’s often more important to me than the finished piece.
“Art is a verb, not a noun”. That was the outcome of a conference I attended in Paris a few year ago. It’s the process of creating.
That human inclination to express ourselves and send out vibrations of energy. It connects us to our humanity and to each other. It makes individuality a beautiful thing. And that’s what I love and live for. The magic. Kids who stop to ask questions on the street. Or a person who sees exactly what you meant to say or something entirely different that you didn’t see yourself. Connections. Exchanges.
I think as the world becomes increasingly populated and individuality becomes compromised, and at a time like now where intolerance seems to be on the rise, I think art is a really important tool.
The work I’ve done with kids in challenging situations over the years has proven that. I’ve seen kids in really difficult circumstances find relief, freedom and self confidence in making art. The same as it did for me. So I think as artists we’ve got a really powerful tool on our hands and we have a
bit of an obligation to use it for some good.
The best part about the scene is that it’s got so much potential. We’ve got people from all over the world so the potential for collaboration, for artists coming together to create a new and original aesthetic is pretty exciting.
What frustrates me most about the scene is that there isn’t enough emphasis put on the substance behind the actions.
Street art has come to Dubai so fast but without enough discussion about why it’s important, how it affects our communities, grass roots, the value, etc. I think that’s important. Substance. It’s not just about the show and the wow factor.
I think investing more into emerging talent, into creating dialogue around culture and social impact, into supporting grass roots projects and local cultural workers would really help.
The Domino is a small company and platform I started 6 years ago. At the time the scene was young, there wasn’t a strong understanding of the worth of what artists to do and how to appropriately apply it to commercial scenarios. Things like appropriate compensation, creative integrity, are really important to the way The Domino works.
I work with clients on projects be it campaigns, interiors or festivals on curation to engage artist participation and conceptualize projects in ways that are equally valuable to the artist as much as to the Client and somehow contributes to a bigger picture and understanding of the value of what artists do.
As The Domino I’ve curated a few fundraising projects like a show a few years ago to raise funds for a school for refugees in Lebanon. I’ve also worked personally as an artist with community outreach projects in Toronto for kids from underprivileged communities. I’ve done a few projects in India including one with the Scribble Foundation which again works with low-income schools. I recently painted a wall with patients who are victims of war-related injuries at an MSF rehabilitation hospital in Amman, Jordan and last weekend I painted a wall at a boys’ camp in Ontario for kids from homes with low incomes and challenging circumstances.
The season is a few months away so we’ll have to see
I don’t want to always run it alone as I have done for 6 years. That was never the point. It wasn’t supposed to be about money or purely about my gain.
I want it to be a platform for other artists to use and tap into to grow their careers just as it has done for me and several others over the last few years.
That was a heavy project. We see a lot of images of war in the middle east lately to the point where it doesn’t impact us as much as it does, but to see in the flesh innocent children and adults reeling from war-related injuries like 3 rd degree burns to huge parts of their bodies or amputations is heart breaking and just not fair. It made me feel so embarrassed and disappointed in human beings. That was my first reaction. But by the time I left it changed to a different sentiment.
I learnt about the human spirit. It perseveres.
These patients with these awful circumstances had so much heart and spirit and hope as they sang in the hallways as we painted. It was a mixed sentiment really. Heart break and hope. And that’s what a lot of my work is about. That coupled feeling of tragedy and hurt coupled with hope and
determination. There is still good in the world. I learnt a lot from the doctors at the hospital too. That you can either choose to live your life trying to play the game and achieve what the system makes you believe you need to be happy. Or you can see what else there is to do in the world, like help people, and dedicate some of your time and energy to it.
The causes: just approach them! Me, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dubai can be a bit insular. Keep up with what’s going in the rest of the world through blogs, mailing lists, etc. Commit to what you’re doing. Be obsessed with it. You may sacrifice a good deal of other aspects of your life but there’s a lot of artists in the world, it’s not enough to do it as a hobby if you’re serious about it.
Don’t be disheartened, persevere. People may not get what you’re doing but if it makes sense to you, keep doing it.
I love places that level the playing field. Break down barriers and difference between people. The social dynamics in Dubai, be it between classes or races, has given me a lot of anxiety through my life. So I love places that manage to escape that. Like the public beaches. Or the desert. It’s for