We think of all the words like culture, character, charm, and sophistication when we see the artwork by Zahra Gulraiz. Her contemporary calligraphy strokes are inspired by traditional Arabic language and writing to form the most bold and beautiful pieces. FACT’s Shabana Adam brings the Dubai-based artist’s creativity to the cover story in time for Ramadan..
Calligraphy has been a part of the Islamic art world for many centuries; however, this elegant form of art has also appeared in other cultures, including Roman, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Mayan and more, with many incorporating it in their scriptures and books. Still, calligraphy remains an intricate artistic style that has been used to a much greater extent in the Arab world, in wonderfully diverse and imaginative ways that have taken the written word from pen to paper, to canvas, to the streets, the city walls, and beyond. For these and many other reasons, calligraphy has become somewhat of a symbolic feature of Islamic art. Its premise often lies within Arabic writing, whereby the end result is the balance between transmitting a text and expressing its meaning through a formal visual code. This is also the very reason why calligraphy is both a most beautiful and powerful art form, having been developed and adopted by traditional and modern-day artists to share their views, messages and interests. For us, 29-year-old Zahra Gulraiz is one such artist. We first came across her work in 2016, featuring it in FACT’s regional issues.
Now that we’re fully established in Dubai, we thought it only right to revisit Zahra’s work and see what she’s been up to for the past two years. Probably the biggest development for Zahra since we last spoke is her venture into the world of accessories. “I have recently started collaborating with companies to feature my art on various products,” she tells us, “And I have to say, it feels amazing. The handbags were a hit and got sold out pretty fast! The most recent collaboration features my illustrations on a series of children’s books,” Zahra adds. “It basically all started after I was approached by a greeting cards company to design notebook covers for their product line. Since then it has been collaboration overload.” Taking it all the way back, Zahra’s childhood family life as well as her religious background and deep connection with the Arabic language has inspired her artistic pursuits on a major scale.
“While my peers in kindergarten chased each other, rode their bikes, played with barbie dolls or read their books, you would find me wandering the halls looking at the paintings on the walls,” Zahra reminisces. “As I grew older, my father inspired me a great deal. We would spend our free time painting my furniture pink or making 3D art installations. I think my Dad was one of the biggest reasons why I have always been inclined towards art,” she adds. Zahra’s other significant guidance came from Arabic writing, which is also the main influence for calligraphy too. Many Muslim communities and cultures hold the Arabic language in great esteem for it was the language in which the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century.
“As we lived in a practicing family, the Quran was a vital part of my life,” Zahra says. “After years of learning and getting accustomed to the Arabic text in the Quran, I gained a strong connection with the Arabic language. I fell in love with the structure of each alphabet. As I made my way through college, I found myself drifting away from the norm of creating portraits and landscapes, and more towards the beauty that lay within the Arabic text,” she explains. Calligraphy is and always will be Zahra’s first love, even though she does work on mandalas and illustrations, her heart – and paint brush – always seems to find their way back to what she loves most. And one of the main reasons she holds onto her own style of work is because of how it makes her feel.
“The art we are surrounded by has a huge impact on our mood and emotions,” Zahra says. “For me, the carefully constructed lines along with the relaxed swirls in my work make me feel calm, happy, and at ease. The main focus of my work is to draw people’s attention towards it, make them question it, and then seek what lays beneath the surface. It’s evident that since our last conversation with Zahra, she has really come into her own. “I have definitely matured as an artist, and as a person over the last couple of years,” she admits. “My artistic style (and personality) have become more defined and confident.
“I am not afraid to take chances, play around with new styles, or become caught up with the “stress to impress”. I have had people tell me that my work will not go far, or that it’s too monotonous. I have taken this negativity and channelled it into positivity by believing in myself first,” she smiles. “Self love is alive and well, guys! Also, I am thoroughly enjoying using Instagram as a tool to help me grow, and the love and support you get from other artists is so uplifting.” So, what is it about art that keeps her excited and motivated to keep creating? “I like to set very high goals for myself,” Zahra says. “I am talking sky high! The vision of achieving my goals is so exciting that it kicks me into gear and helps to keep me motivated. Working towards that end goal makes every step of the process enjoyable. “Even though I have been a professional artist for a long time, the constant thirst to better myself has not subsided. I am constantly learning, growing and progressing as an artist,” she adds.
Recently, Zahra has given her paint brushes a little rest and dived into the world of Digital Art. She now carries her iPad Pro around like it’s a newborn! Her signature style remains the same, but she’s now concentrating on creating Digital Artwork that can be used on more products. “Got to keep up with the times,” she says! As we get into the heart of 2018, Zahra has a number of cool projects in the pipeline. “I am currently collaborating with a hotel in Downtown Dubai which will permanently showcase my paintings,” she shares. “After a few more collaborations, I plan to start my own business.” When your enthusiasm, artworks and future vision speaks volumes in the way that Zahra’s does, there really is no limit to what can be achieved.
ZAHRA’S ADVISE FOR BUDDING ARTISTS:
• Start working on your own personal style and try to be as individual as you possibly can. It’s perfectly fine to get inspired by other artists, but never copy another artist’s work. Take your time, find your niche, and when you find it, practice till the cows come home!
• Make yourself an Instagram account and start posting your work there. Interact with people. Listen to their constructive criticism. Step out of your comfort zone and basically, just go for it!
• If you want to be truly successful as an artist, don’t be intimidated by the pressure to be successful. Success takes time. So take your time, take it easy, and don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing great. This stranger lady right here in the magazine believes in you!
GO: FOLLOW @ZAHRAGULRAIZ ON INSTAGRAM TO KEEP UP WITH THE ARTIST’S LATEST WORK AND PROJECTS.