Jalal Luqman - JUNE 2016

By Aysha Majid

Labeled as one of the Emirates’ most provocative creatives and a pioneer of Emirati art; Jalal Luqman is a mixed media artist, having shown contemporary exhibits internationally in Beijing, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Tokyo, the Czech Republic, New York and Washington DC. With a soon to be published graphic novel and two TV series in the pipeline; the artist, sculptor, gallery owner and local and international spokesperson for the regional art scene, Luqman’s approach to art is limitless…

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Your work is known for being provocative. Do you feel able to express yourself fully artistically and what (if any) preconceptions have you encountered throughout your career?

Having the ability to communicate and to create art is more of a responsibility than many may think. My career is more than 30 years old, so boy do I have stories to tell…but when I broke barriers it was not just to raise eyebrows, provoking was a free byproduct, which accompanied the delivery of a strong message, not the other way around. Obstacles and barriers came in different shapes and sizes, there was the overall idea that art is a waste of time and there was no market for it. Also since I introduced digital art to the region in 1996, no one considered it real art, I was not even able to copyright my artwork in the UAE because they said the computer did the work for me, so I have to protect my artwork abroad (which was also another struggle in an age of no internet or emails). Emirati Artists were very few back then, but still they were a tight knit group, who did not accept newcomers with open arms and to add to the challenge was this new technique of artwork which involved using the computer, which made my acceptance even more difficult.
 

As a curator and gallery owner (first Ghaf in Abu Dhabi and now Citizen E in Dubai Design District), what three attributes must an artist have to exhibit?

Exhibiting an artwork depends on the artist more than it relies on the artwork itself, but I usually rely on a combination of attributes… 1) The Originality of the artwork, the message the artwork carries. 2) The visual qualities of the artwork and how it communicates with the viewer. 3) Unlike other Gallerists I don’t go after the successful artist only, I enjoy discovering new talent.
 

Can you tip us off on any exciting new projects?

I just founded TAMRA Productions, which is my new vehicle to take my creativity to the motion picture field. Having a forever starving creative gene makes it impossible to be content with where I am and what I am doing, so I decided to open a formal licensed production company to combine my art. On another note…my old artist support initiative, titled Jalal’s Art Trip (JAT), will return in 2017. This involves sponsoring a group of artists (on a trip), workshops and finally exhibiting their resulting art in an exhibition (visit www.jalalluqman.com for more on this initiative).
 

Your work has been described as "challenging" and "unconventional", why do you think this is and how do you see it, through your eyes?

I love to be challenged. I love to struggle and grind to reach my target. If there were two paths to reach somewhere I would always take the path less taken, I feed off it. Since my artwork is an inseparable part of me then automatically my artwork takes on my personality… I hate convention and norm. I believe my artwork is raw, no introductions, no massaging of thoughts, it does not talk gently and nicely. My artwork stands in front of you and shouts, it’s not beautiful or decorative. Rest assured there is an important wakeup call inside it, you just have to be able to read it.
 

You recently turned your hand to the pop culture scene creating Graphic Novel, “Armagondas”. What is it about fantasy that fascinates you and how did you come up with the characters?

It’s an epic fantasy which I started writing in the early 80s and created all the characters from scratch. Although there are many strange looking creatures in it, the morals and ethics in the story are heavily influenced by positive teachings of historical events, and myths.
 

Do you have any other talents we don’t know about?

You will discover these after you see my first film, where I have written, directed and acted.
 

How would you describe your life growing up in the UAE?

Pure awesome! We were children and became pioneers and historians. My generation saw the shifting sands, we saw the land before the concrete jungle, yet we are still young enough to ride the roller coasters and rise to the tallest building in the world. We ran bare foot in the sand, got chased by angry goats, and ate straight from the tree branches. We enjoyed lighting candles when the electricity would disconnect, we enjoyed having an imagination and today I enjoy walking in some of the most luxurious malls and hotels on the same ground I ran as a child.
 

What do you miss most about 'Old UAE'?

I miss the simplicity of life, which so rapidly changed… I grew up in Abu Dhabi, so I sometimes miss the quiet and the seclusion of being a small village in the middle of nowhere, before we became an important and busy capital on the international arena.
 

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I have been blessed to have succeeded in many things, I created a name for myself in the Emirati Art Scene, I created many firsts in my life and am still very active, so you can ask me this question again in 20 years, I might have a better answer then.
 

What inspired you?

Rick Baker inspired me from the first time I saw “American Werewolf in London” and later Michael Jackson’s Thriller, where he showed the mastery of special effects, turning humans into creatures so well that he broke records. Salvador Dali inspired me in his way of how an artist can be free and have the right to be appropriately crazy. HR Giger (the creator of “Alien”), as well as a wealth of artistic achievements that many people don’t know, Giger showed me how art does not have to be beautiful to be appreciated and his art got him an Oscar. Raymond Frederick "Ray" Harryhausen inspired me as a very young child when I saw the original “Clash of the Titans” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”. The stop motion creatures mesmerised my young eyes…
 

How do you feel Emirati culture has changed over the years?

Emirati culture is still the same down deep in the core, we still have the same morals and ethics; we still respect all, welcome all and are tolerant to all. The change that we witness today is similar to all cultures that develop from a secluded, small, homogenous society to a metropolis. I love the changes that we have gone through as long as we do not forget who we are and blindly follow others just because it looks “cool”. I enjoy the impact we have on the world opinion. We have become home to millions of people who have left their homes to come and call the UAE home. I enjoy friends who look different, have different beliefs and different cultures, yet we enjoy the same things, the same food, the same movies and we enjoy our friendship regardless of what religions or colour differentiates us.
 

What drives you creatively?

I’m a chronic creative, I am inspired by things that move me, mostly things that make me angry, things I want to change, things I usually dream of. Throughout the years I have always fed my hunger by using whatever medium I can find; so if paint doesn’t talk to me, I revert to wood, or plaster or meta, and if all that didn’t cure my hunger I would create 3d character concepts.
 

What do you miss most when you leave the city?

Believe me if I leave the city it’s because I escaped it for a break, so while I’m away I don’t miss anything about it! I take breaks out of the city to flush out all the stress out of my brain.
 

You have held contemporary art exhibits internationally in Beijing, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Tokyo, the Czech Republic, New York and Washington DC. Which city are you most drawn to and why?

I love Manhattan, I would love to live there for sometime, there is an energy there which is nowhere in the world.
 

Where do you like to socialise?

I don’t have much time to really socialise but when I do I have a few old friends who I meet for a coffee or a green tea. I also love to go to the luxury class movie theatres, order popcorn, a hotdog and throw the healthy diet out the window. I don’t have one favorite place since I am a moody artist, but I love to be pampered, I love good food and good service.
 

If you had to pick a perfect day spent… Where would it start and end?

It would be in the ocean, on a boat, crystal clear water, scuba diving equipment. I would dive all day, then as the sun goes down, I would sit around a camp fire enjoying a BBQ, sleep in a tent, wake up the next day, get on a motorbike (joined by one or two friends) and ride the entire day, and when the sun goes down I’d ride home to my wife and kids.
 

You are an advocate for the progression of Emirati artists and have pursued initiatives to promote art both in the UAE and internationally. How do you think regional art is evolving and what can we do to develop the UAE’s cultural platform?

First of all, Emirati art should be taught in our schools and universities. Government agencies should choose Emirati first when they plan art commissions, otherwise Emirati art will wither and die. I will not write beautiful positive stuff to make anybody happy; it’s a very easy equation… Emirati artists are human beings exactly like artists from every other country. They eat food like normal human beings, they buy cars, they have bills, they get sick and need medicine, they need materials and they need MONEY. So if the UAE (which is one of the richest countries in the world) chooses to hire artists from other countries to come and do work in the UAE, then what happens to the Emirati artist? Where can Emirati artists get income if their work opportunities are going to other artists? So if you ask me what can we do to develop the UAE’s culture platform I will tell you, invest in local talent, invest in Emirati artists, or kiss it all goodbye.