Emirati artist Zeinab Alhashemi combines her experience in graphic design with her love for art

Zeinab Alhashemi talks about her one-of-a-kind art works.

 A piece by Zeinab Alhashemi, a camel leather carpet with geometric shapes filled with desert sand. Antonie Robertson/The National)
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It was with a certain reluctance that Zeinab Alhashemi accepted the title of artist.

The 27-year-old studied graphic design at Zayed University in Dubai and when she graduated, started working for a bank.

But after a serious car accident from which she took a year to recover, she began to make pieces of art and earned herself the title of an emerging artist.

“The title stuck but I didn’t agree with it,” she says. “I thought, OK, you can call me an artist but I am not, I am a graphic designer.”

However, like it or not, project after project came her way and finally in 2012, she was invited to take part in the Artist-in-Residence programme hosted by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), Art Dubai, Tashkeel and the Delfina Foundation.

“It was then I said to myself ‘I think I am an artist’ and finally decided to accept it.”

Alhashemi’s talent has been recognised in the hope of kickstarting a new trend of independent artists combining art and design in a contemporary way.

In 2013, Alhashemi was one of only three Emirati artists to participate in the Sharjah Biennial with a series of giant fishnets placed close to the city's busy port. The piece, titled Circumvolution State of Mind, not only transformed an every day object into an art piece – something that has become Alhashemi's trademark – but also brought into play the use of the dome in Islamic architecture as well as the possibility for collaboration between artists and artisans.

Having participated in a number of international residencies, Alhashemi's latest work, Sanam, a modular rug made from camel leather, was displayed at Design Days Dubai in March and is currently showing in Tashkeel as part of its summer show Made in Tashkeel.

This piece is typical of many of her works in that it focuses on the use of material and function, but also has a well thought-out concept behind it.

Alhashemi adeptly straddles the perceived gap between artist and designer and meets somewhere in the middle.

“For the past two years, I’ve been involved in different projects in both design and art and was always making the distinction between the two. Then I realised that they are very much linked. When I make an art piece, it starts with an idea but it is all about making that idea into a reality and if I am making a design piece then, as much as it is a functional object, it is based on an artistic approach.”

Shunning the idea of anything having only "cold functionality", Alhashemi prides herself on the depth of the concept describing the process behind Sanam as beginning with the material but then thinking about the desert environment where the camels live and about how she could present that in a contemporary sense.

Following swiftly on from this project was a collaboration with the fashion brand Hermès, which asked her to design a window display for its Etihad Towers branch in Abu Dhabi.

Taking the cue from another traditionally Emirati animal, the falcon, Alhashemi evolved the idea into the land of fantasy and created the Arabian Phoenix to rise from the ashes of a piece of medium-density fibreboard from which it was carved and to sit victorious in the window, in the first display of its kind from an Emirati artist.

Although her nationality doesn't often figure in her work, she has felt a responsibility towards representing her nation since returning from Washington in the United States in May, where a 2009 work of hers is on display in Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates. The exhibition is at the Meridian International Center in the American capital and is partly organised by the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in the US.

“When I was there, people were thirsty to know about the art scene and our culture and I felt responsible in terms of cultural exchange with people from different backgrounds. Art has become its own language, it is a shortcut to that culture and being there, talking about pieces that were not just my own gave me a lot of confidence about the art movement here.”

Although she is young, fiercely independent and committed to a full-time branding design job with Dubai Media Incorporated, Alhashemi knows that her art is not something she can give up.

“It has become who I am and in that way it defines me,” she says. “There was a time in my life where I was not sure if I would continue, but now I feel like I would be foolish to stop.”

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