It is very difficult to put Ali Shawwa in a box; in any box.
A Kuwaiti of Palestinian origin, he grew up between the Gulf state and Cyprus. He has worked in construction across the Americas and Europe. He draws inspiration from the nomadic desert and the mystical writings of Paulo Coelho. His art mirrors his multi-cultural being as he shifts between the mediums of painting and sculpting, drawing from his Middle Eastern heritage and Mediterranean connection, superimposing it with the current milieu.
“Growing up, I didn’t quite know what I would be. I only knew that I felt peaceful and complete when I painted,” he recalls. Eager to learn, he signed up for elective creative and art history classes his university offered to not only learn the various styles, but more importantly gain perspective and form his own artistic voice. “Eventually I realised that I never wanted a style to burden or limit me. Currently, I feel relatively well-rounded in my process. Like me, my work is constantly evolving — as it should be.”
After graduation, the renowned architect and artist Maath Alousi took Shawwa under his wing. A growing command over the brush buoyed a shift to a more tangible form — sculptures. He then turned to the internationally acclaimed Cypriot master potter Valentinos Charalambous. Giving his protege direction beyond mere technique, Charalambous shared the philosophy and attitude that guides Shawwa’s current works.
In late 2015, Shawwa was invited to participate in a charity auction organised by Emergeast, the first online art gallery for emerging Middle Eastern artists. His artwork, Farid and Tahiya, turned out to be the biggest draw of the evening. This recognition not only gave him confidence, it also opened doors to the secretive and often clique-ish world of art.
Superimposed, his solo show that opens this week, is characteristic of Shawwa’s interplay of layers, texture, contrasting colours and reflective metallic elements. It is also the coming of age of a man who left the corporate world to follow his heart to the arts.
Unlike others who have trodden the same path, his previous career choice doesn’t riddle Shawwa with artist’s guilt. “I actually appreciate the skills I had attained and networks, both professional and personal, that I developed over those 16 years in the construction industry,” he says.
Throughout his corporate career, he continued to hone his creative voice, experimenting with varied media, even furniture and product design. Transitioning into a full-time artist came with its own pressures.
“There was a certain expectation when it came to creating my art. The momentum of my process shifted — it had to speed up ten-fold.”
Although his works allude to the state of humanity in the region, it is through a layering of universal themes of choices, consequences, hope, grief, strength and beauty, deftly implemented in acrylic and metallic paint, that Shawwa’s burgeoning portfolio sidesteps the limitations of culture, time, place and interpretation that are often placed upon art.
The centrepiece of Shawwa’s new show is a sculpture that exemplifies the kind of artist that will hold forth in the years to come — one who is on the intersection of fine arts, humanity and high tech.
Gossipers started as a sketch in 1997, and quite unlike this consistent human trait, the series has constantly evolved. From watercolours, acrylic and ‘quick sand’ process, to ceramic sculptures glazed with Cypriote minerals, the series has maintained its connect with nature.
For his new show, Shawwa wanted to elevate the series to more contemporary platform. “I approached Immensa Technology Labs, the UAE’s first 3D printing facility, and worked closely with their team to produce a 3D printed edition of the Gossipers,” he says. “The one thing that remains consistent in my gossipers is that they all have coffee cups in their laps and you can almost hear them murmur!”
Check it out!
Superimposed runs at Chez Charles, Dubai Design District, from March 28 until April 10.