After six years of drawing and painting birds, Fathima Mohiuddin, who goes by the artist name Fatspatrol, decided on a new subject: people.
"I experienced a bit of a shift last year when the world went into lockdown," she tells The National. "It took me down the road of thinking about what makes up a human being. When we're stripped away of social interaction and engaging with external images like we were last year, what makes us human?"
Her latest work The Humans, commissioned for a Yas Island development, features several stylised characters, each unique in their appearance and style. The figures, rendered in profile, are made with bold black lines and various shapes painted on a 100-metre stretch of white wall, which is located next to Etihad Arena.
“The figures represent all of us,” Mohiuddin says. “Each human on the mural has something different that drives and motivates them. In my head each one has a unique character and story but I also like that there’s room there for the viewer to give them their own story.”
Mohiuddin attributes her quirky visual style to diverse influences from within the UAE, including Arabic calligraphy, henna, Indian textiles and architecture. “I am a product of experiencing the unique cultural mash-up that is the UAE, and in that sense speak to the local community through my style,” she explains.
The artist, 37, grew up in the UAE and has been living between Dubai and Canada for the last three years. She studied studio art and critical theory in Toronto, then went on to complete her Master's degree in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London in England, where she her wrote her thesis on public and street art.
“I’m of Indian origin, born and raised in the UAE, a Canadian immigrant; an altogether fairly complex cultural make-up. Mark-making has been a way for me to create a unique voice of my own in my style."
Work for The Humans began earlier this year. Miral, the developer that commissioned the project, reached out to the artist in March 2020, around the time when she was beginning to experiment with drawing humans instead of her usual feathered figures. The large-scale mural took six weeks to complete with the help of two assistants.
With its black lines and exaggerated shapes, Mohiuddin seemingly borrowed from street art and graphic design. Her choice of colour, or lack thereof, was a way to bring focus to the subject and the forms within the work, which are usually done in a free-flowing, “stream of consciousness” process, as the artist describes.
“Sometimes I feel like a minimal colour palette like that is enough and doesn’t necessarily need to be injected with the emotion and implications colour brings. It leaves space for the viewer to think and breathe between the heavy lines and forms,” she explains.
Through her public art, she has also participated in educational outreach, painting with children wounded by war in Jordan and creating artwork for awareness campaigns on gender-based violence during the pandemic. "I think artists have a responsibility to understand the socially communicative value of art and use it for positive change and progress. We all have a part to play in moving the world forward."