Artist draws on UAE characters for National Day inspiration

As UAE flags and leaders' portraits decorate the streets and cars outside, the feeling inside one house celebrating National Day is decidedly cartoonish.

“I was trying to do something different at our house to what other people do,” Emirati artist, Zubaida Al Jabri, says. “I wanted to express to others the value of National Day and that this occasion is a joy for all and not limited to locals.”
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As flags and portraits of the nation’s leaders decorate the streets and cars outside, the atmosphere at the house of the Emirati artist, Zubaida Al Jabri, is decidedly more “cartoonish”.

A huge drawing displaying characters expressing National Day greetings in various languages covers the walls of her house. Depicted are familiar faces from across UAE society, with all nationalities and age groups represented.

“I was trying to do something different at our house to what other people do,” said the 33-year-old artist, who has named the piece Fi Baitna Rasma (At our house there is a drawing). “I wanted to express to others the value of National Day and that this occasion is a joy for all and not limited to locals.

“I drew a labourer, a maid, a foreigner, an Arab expat, children, locals ... everyone loves the country and the best way to express it is through a drawing.”

The characters express greetings in English, French, Urdu, Arabic, the local dialect, Indonesian and Tagalog.

Even Al Jabri’s house cat, Absi, has been included in the portrait (his greeting is a “meooow”).

“He lives with us so I wanted to include him in the celebration,” she said.

Though Al Jabri specialises in comic caricatures, she consciously made this piece as serious as possible, “because this is something patriotic and should be more expressive”.

She has been drawing caricatures since high school, but prefers to keep her art as a pastime rather than make a career out of it.

“My field is completely different – computer. I did not want to link my work with my hobby because for me it is a way to release the pressure I encounter every day,” she said.

“So I did not want it to be imposed on me. I want it to be by choice because I love it.”

Her drawings gained more of an audience when she opened an Instagram account five months ago. Fi Baitna Rasma proved a hit on the social media app, soon gaining 224 likes and 76 comments.

“Users interacted a lot with my caricatures, I received many comments and they liked my ideas.”

This encouraged her to expand.

“Most people get bored of repetition so I like to diversify the characters and I like to change the method of presentation.”

A similar campaign, “On top of our house there is a flag” was launched on Twitter two years ago for the 40th celebration of National Day. It too was a hit and gained many followers.

“Everybody decorates with flags on National Day so I wanted to do something new.”

Now that she has created something new, others are starting to follow and she has received several requests from companies and individuals who want her to do something similar for them.

The Petroleum Institute Abu Dhabi, the Community Development Authority, a school and Sharjah Municipality have all sought her talents, as has an individual who wants her to decorate his car for the National Day parade.

She has decided to cover the car with caricatures that highlight the negative behaviour of some who take part in parades in the hope that humour will encourage people to behave more courteously.

“These messages need to be in the form of caricatures so people will accept the message. Serious advice is not accepted by people, so if it is in a light, humorous way it can stick with them.”

Behaviour she will target includes harassment of female drivers, people who spray water and foam at passers-by, “pointless dancing” and misuse of the UAE flag.

She says many women are hesitant to participate in parades because of harassment by men, while she also takes issue with a woman she once spotted who “wrapped the flag around her waist and started dancing ... everyone found that inappropriate”.

Al Jabri has also been commissioned to draw scenes for bachelorette and engagement parties, while the police’s social department has also used her talent for their adverts.

“I do all these drawings as a volunteer,” she said. “I don’t want to involve money in my hobby.”

hdajani@thenational.ae