DUBAI-BASED ARTIST MAISOON AL SALEH DIVES INTO THE UNKNOWN, SOMETIMES LITERALLY. FACT DECIDED TO PADDLE AROUND HER ARTISTIC MIND TO EXPLORE THE INSPIRATION BEHIND HER UNIQUE PAINTINGS. HERE SHE TALKS TO JAYNE GREEN ABOUT WHAT MAKES THE ARTIST WITHIN TICK.
Maisoon Al Saleh’s talent was first noticed at a young age, when she was in kindergarten and her teacher mentioned to her parents that she was extremely talented, especially in comparison to her peers. This artistic license runs deep through her veins as her Aunt is indeed a fine artist, alongside her Father who is passionate about photography and her Mother who is into fashion designing.
As a child, Maisoon was obsessed with her Ghostbusters colouring book and proudly carried it everywhere alongside her crayons. She continued to watch the TV series when she lived in the United States. We love her refreshingly honest answers – who doesn’t like Ghostbusters? Being an Interior Design graduate from Zayed University taught Maisoon the skill set to be able to use any material in constructing anything, from 3D printing using various machines, sculpture, installation, and interactive art which expanded her previous flair for painting, mixed media, and digital art. “I became not limited working on 2D works, but the whole room turned into my canvas,” she explains.
She’s a self-proclaimed surrealist artist who mixes reality with her imagination. Each of Maisoon’s artworks is based on a true story that has either happened to her directly, something that she has heard from a friend or indeed something that she has simply read in a newspaper. For example, in her second solo show, The Dara Chronicles, she produced a set of mixed media images that explore stories and documented accounts of the Dubai-based M.V. Dara, a passenger liner that exploded in the Gulf on April 8th, 1961. “I grew up hearing stories from my grandfather about that night on the vessel where he was one of the survivors,” she recalls. Newspaper articles and other reports at the time only describe an explosion in the middle of the ship and suggest that the cause was likely sabotage.
Beginning with an exploratory dive at the Dara gravesite itself, she exhaustively researched the event, seeking out experiences retold from different personal perspectives. The resulting art works were inspired by letters about the incident written by the shipping company and police investigators, news articles, and stories told by survivors or family members of those who perished in the shipwreck. She further juxtaposed different cultural viewpoints through the presence of three suitcases, symbolising the different nationalities on board—British, Indian and GCC passengers. Portraits of passengers, stories of the explosion and the events that followed illuminate personal narratives versus media accounts.
Through these strategies, Maisoon brings viewers into a discussion about the importance of Emirati history and forces us to challenge how we think about the UAE’s past, memory and its representation in mainstream media. When asked simply, “Why art?” her response is just as thought provoking as her artworks: “Art is part of me, it’s an addiction,” she says. “I can’t even allow one day to pass by without creating something. It gives me the freedom to express myself with no restrictions!” Maisoon’s mother often revels in seeing the mural paintings that her daughter has created. One such visual is the 4 level building located on the 2nd of December Street adjacent to the Etihad Museum in Dubai. Her mum links this back to a childhood memory where she bore witness to Maisoon scribbling merrily on their living room walls.
Always one to step outside the realms of normality, Maisoon told us of how she started to experiment with the medium of underwater painting using the bathtub as her initial starting point. This evolved into her gaining a scuba diving license in 2010: “This is when I started to create some artworks underwater using waterproof, heatproof, and against UV light materials to create part of The Dara Chronicles.” We’re impressed! Even more so when she recalls the time that she was being trained to deal with sharks underwater whilst scuba diving, when a clown fish (y’know, Finding Nemo?) was, well… ‘clowning’ around and wouldn’t let go of her as she was painting underwater. An apprentice in the making! In her work, the focus is on telling true stories about what is happening in the UAE, for example in the series titled The Bright Side of the Bones you can see skeletal figures and different nationalities painted using acrylic on canvas. “Having those skeletal figure represents equality in the UAE as there’s no differentiation here in age, gender, and nationality, we are all equal,” she explains.
Due to this method of documentation of the UAE history it’s easy to see why her artworks have been recognised on an international level. They focus on shedding light on specific topics that haven’t really been discussed in depth or even at all. Maisoon’s perception of the current art scene, and whether or not she is faced with any challenges, is a positive one. “The scene has been growing rapidly in the Gulf and in particular in the UAE,” she says. “Dubai for example has been investing in the culture and arts by hosting exhibitions, therefore it’s attracting collectors to invest in art, either through auction houses or art fairs. Those activities resulted towards a rapid growth in the art market.” This is clearly a lady who knows her stuff and is evidently ‘switched on’ when further interrogated questioned about how she deals with said challenges.
“Having such an active, supportive, and growing art scene hasn’t been challenging for me as an artist as you also have the government support in supporting local talents, not just for Emirati artists but also for various nationalities for example, Dubai Culture (Sikka Art Fair) , and Dubai Media Office (Dubai Canvas 3D Art Festival and Dubai Open Museum initiative).” Any encouraging last words, Maisoon? “Do what your passionate about the most, and success will follow you.”
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