FACT’s Shabana Adam talks to Jordanian artist Salah Shaheen about his artistic
journey, his tools and techniques, and misconceptions about art in the Arab world.

calligraphy

Salah Shaeen has been living in the UAE since 2005, and one thing he really values is the country’s art scene. “I do not exaggerate when I say that the UAE society appreciates art in all its forms,” he says. “The community has a huge interest in following the trends and visiting exhibitions, and keeping up with events and artists’ activities. This can be seen, easily, on social media platforms,” Salah adds.

Talking of social media, it was on Instagram that we first discovered Salah’s work. A quick hashtag search of #UAEarts led to a few hundred results, the majority of which showcased Salah’s beautiful pieces. It was the colours, the intricate patterns and the elegant calligraphy that caught our attention. Just perfect for the Ramadan issue! Upon quizzing Salah about the tools and techniques he uses, we’re pleasantly surprised to learn that he employs both traditional and modern methods in his artwork. “I strongly believe that everything around you can be turned into a tool to be used in your art,” he says. “Starting from any regular materials like wood, cloth, sponge or paint brushes, to more modern practices such as digital techniques, which are now becoming a big part of the new modern art movement.

“For a decade now, I have used both techniques,” Salah tells us. “For example, I have been drawing and painting with a regular brush and different materials, then I scan the work digitally and start editing using one of the applications like Photoshop, Painter and Sketch Tools.

“This method has caused unimaginable success in terms of how both techniques have been beautifully implemented,” he adds.

calligraphy

Salah’s sophisticated approach to art is a result of years of learning and practice. The 47-year-old takes us on a trip down memory lane to where it all began. “It started when I was in school and my art teacher noticed that I was drawing my lines in a very balanced way, as well as noticing my color choices,” Salah recalls. “This drove my teacher to tell my father about my talent and, luckily, my dad was also interested in art and poetry, specifically.”

His first exhibition was at school, and it gave Salah a real taste of the potential and possibilities for artists. It was then that Salah’s interest and passion for art was further ignited, and he began to read books and magazines, watch TV programmes, and visit actual exhibitions to learn anything related to arts and different artists.

“This was a very important stage in my life and it was a stepping stone for what I have achieved so far,” Salah shares. “I still remember my teacher’s encouraging words as he made me believe that these are not just drawings, they are stories and sentences that the artist is trying to demonstrate by drawing them.”

What we come to know and understand about Salah is that he had full access and support with his artistic experiences. This is something that is, often, misrepresented of the art world in the Middle East, and Salah is the first to stand up and dispel this view when we ask if he faces any challenges being an artist in this region. “The question in general comes from the stereotypical image about the region,” he explains. “There’s a Middle Eastern stigma that it’s the land of wars and political issues and that the Middle East has no time for art and creativity, which I strongly believe to be a totally wrong image.