Khalid Mezaina – NOVEMBER 2013

By Kate Hazell

Khalid Mezaina shares his inspirations, creative catalysts and the city he calls home exclusively with Cherrypick readers.

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The regional art scene has become a significant player for the international art world over the past five years as Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art now attract some of the world's biggest and most influential galleries and curators. So it's exciting to see younger Arab artists feed off and grow as part of this success, namely 28-year-old Emirati artist, Khalid Mezaina. The shy yet bubbly illustrator (Khalid always has a beaming smile on his face every time we bump into him) has been honing his craft at local art institutions, including the Sharjah Art Foundation and currently, Tashkeel, ever since graduating from the American University of Sharjah in 2010. Most recently, Khalid was one of the artists chosen to produce a limited edition print collection for Capsule Arts in Dubai, with his illustrations of local areas such as Satwa and Deira. As Art Dubai 2014 approaches next month, Cherry Pick sits down to find out what life's like for an artist working in the city.


How did you become involved in the print collection with Capsule Arts?

The Capsule Arts girls were on the hunt for creative artists to work with and they liked my illustrations and saw a potential to collaborate on a limited print series. I presented two illustration series; one celebrating the architecture in older areas around Dubai and the other on prayer carpets from my home. All the illustrations were simple line drawings. They've been receiving a great response from the public.

How did you pick the places you drew in the collection?

I think there is a certain aesthetic from the buildings and architecture around the now considered ‘older areas' of Dubai (Deira, Bur Dubai, Karama) that are so beautiful and speak volumes. These areas and their visual stories are slowly being underappreciated or forgotten due to the futuristic high-rise skyscrapers sprouting all around the city. My illustrations focused on the iconic architecture found in these specific areas around Dubai, to remind people to look beyond the skyscrapers and to explore these areas, which are filled with so much character and vibrant communities. I would also like these illustrations to act as a form of documentation, archiving these areas when they either disappear or change in appearance.

How does Dubai inspire your work?

Dubai has been my home since the day I was born. So I've been fortunate enough to have grown up with Dubai and seen the way the city has evolved in my lifetime so far. I think the constant change the city goes through has been a huge inspiration. With change come influences from everywhere. It's such a hybrid city with a mixture of cultures, people and aesthetics. I try to incorporate these elements as much as possible in my works both visually and/or conceptually. Living in Dubai has made me create a hybrid culture for myself; taking from both (Middle) Eastern and Western cultures, which I have embraced and has made me the person I am. And this hybrid culture is definitely reflected in my works.

What influences you?

Comic books have been the biggest inspiration for me. I've been collecting comic books for twenty years and still have not tired from it. I love the medium and getting lost in the pages that are illustrated beautifully. Comic books are the reason why I got into drawing and illustration. Music has also been a huge influence in my work. I love music, and hope to contribute to the music world with my illustrations and design in the near future. I respect musicians that have artistry consistently carried through from their music to their live shows and performances. Other huge inspirations are pop culture and fashion. Certain aesthetics from Emirati culture also inspire me and can be seen in a lot of my works.

You work in so many different mediums, which do you prefer?

I love drawing and will continue to work by hand. All my works begin as a hand drawn illustration. Once a drawing is complete, I then decide whether to develop or enhance it with different tools or mediums, or leave it as is. But the initial drawing is what I enjoy the most and is a pure representation of the work I do and my process. I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, and taking it away from my practise is like losing a part of me. I love the process of creating a piece from basic lines on paper. I love filling pages and pages of sketchbooks! I love drawing…

Whose work in the region would you recommend us checking out?

The region is filled with so much amazing talent. One person that I would highly recommend whose work I recently stumbled upon and absolutely adore is Fatma Al Remaihi from Qatar. She run's a couple of tumblr pages, my favourite being I love her technique and her drawings are absolutely beautiful and speak volumes to me about illustrators based in the region. I get lost in her world through her beautifully dense sketchbooks. I hope our paths cross one day and we can collaborate on a project together.

You also hold workshops at The Magazine Shop about how to make your own Zine…?

I'm a huge fan of print culture and I constantly buy magazines. So my fascination with zines (a non-commercial, non-professional publication) comes from an appreciation of lowbrow design and publications created with limited resources. Hosting workshops is great motivation and inspiration for focusing on making my own zines. I like creating zines that are purely visual based. I would like to create more with illustrations that are based on themes.

You have your own brand, krossbreed, too…?

krossbreed is an interdisciplinary studio and brand which I launched in 2010. I created this with the intention of applying my designs and illustrations onto various media, becoming more accessible and creating products like t-shirts, prints, stationery, wallpaper, etc, for a wider community. I still practise as a freelance graphic designer so any commissioned work and projects now fall under the krossbreed brand but I have a long way to it becoming a self-sustaining brand.

What are your ‘Cherrypicked' places in Dubai?

I love the older areas around Dubai. Places like Deira, Karama, Satwa, Bur Dubai are all places I love to go to every once in awhile for inspiration, good walks and quick escapes when a break from skyscrapers and shopping malls is in need! These areas are filled with amazing finds – restaurants, shops, music, cultures and sub-cultures. One of my favorite places is the area surrounding the Hindu Temple in Bur Dubai. I love the community feel and the narrow alleyways filled with shops selling beautiful trinkets. The atmosphere is musical and fragrant. Another place I love is Special Ostadi, run by an Iranian father and his three sons. The interiors are nostalgic, service extremely friendly, and food simple but impeccable. Other areas I love are found in Deira, including the textile souq (Souq Naif) which is filled with colour and people from all across the globe, the Women’s Museum, a space that explores and celebrates the lives of women in the UAE and The Garage Club, a place that’s filled with loads character and the best African music in town.

What's on your iPod playlist right now?

I don't own an iPod and am very proud to admit I am one of the rare few that still buy audio CDs! So to answer your question, my playlist is filled with everything from pop, rock, R&B, dancehall, electronica and any genre imaginable! Recent additions to my playlist are Beyonce's fifth self-titled studio album and CHVRCHES debut ‘The Bones of What You Believe'. I recently purchased some vinyls by Bjork, Amy Winehouse and The Coasters.

What's the best thing about being an artist based in this region?

I think one of the good things about being an artist from the region today is being part of this big boom of creativity! The creative scene in the region is in constant change and growth, and being a part of this process is very exciting. It's great to see artists and designers doing what they love and gaining recognition for it.

What's coming up in 2014?

I think 2014 will be a year of reflection, deciding what to work towards for years to come on a personal and professional level. I would like to start creating new designs for krossbreed products. A couple of projects and exhibitions are in the works (unfortunately I can't disclose anything just yet). Hopefully 2014 will make room for creating some awesome zines! I also want to develop designs for the music world so I really do hope an opportunity arises. And I hope 2014 brings great things and lots of smiles!


(Images: Khalid Mezaina photographed by Tulip Hazbar, Khalid Working, Vibrant Future 2010 Illustration, Karama 2011 Illustration.)