Art meets politics in Saudi Arabia
Kinzy Al Saheal, a collage artist and photographer born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is no stranger to the concept of communicating uncomfortable political messages in a restrictive society through art. After graduating last spring from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a studio arts degree, she moved back to the region to pursue a career in the arts – with an emphasis on the themes of “female empowerment, justice and peace”. Having landed an internship at Art Dubai in gallery and event management, she’s already well on her way.
Where do you find inspiration?
Travel is such a vital component of my life and has always been the purest way of re-energising my spirits and providing a shift in perspective. I’m the most inspired when I’m immersed in an unfamiliar environment, which is what compels me to create my best work. When I’m unable to travel, I often find myself lacking creativity and the incentive that guides me to find solutions to an artist block. In that case, I look for inspiration from music, books, and other artists.
What is the main context of your work?
Actually creating new context, through the use of dream-like and other-worldly imagery. The act of taking images out of their original setting, manipulating them, and placing them in a new one to provide imagery that can only be imagined provides meaning beyond the artwork.
You use a lot of political and historic references. What messages would you like to translate?
Being a Saudi/Palestinian female has played a major role in my artwork. My background shapes my character and values, and daily experiences. Coming from these two places, my love for history is innate. However, growing up in a relatively restrictive society, being vocal about certain issues, comes with consequences. Visualising my thoughts and addressing these issues through artwork is a simple and safe way to get a message across, while still being mindful of cultural and societal norms. There are many messages I would like to translate through my artwork, but the most prominent ones are female empowerment, justice, and peace. Spreading awareness and shedding light on political conflicts that are close to my heart is so important to me. Although I am fortunate to be surrounded by intelligent people, knowing that ignorance is so commonplace is what drives me to create the art that I do.
Where would you like to see yourself as an artist in the next five years? What’s your dream?
Since collage-making is a relatively new form of art that I have only tapped into two years ago, I’ve had alternative dreams prior to that that I hope to fulfill in the near future. I plan on cultivating my photography, as I have always been extremely eager about documentary and storytelling, and have dreamed of being a photojournalist for as long as I can remember. Having just graduated with my bachelors degree, I am still in the process of exploring my options and gaining as much experience as I can in different areas of the creative realm. However, ideally I see myself working for a non-profit organisation like National Geographic and traveling to different parts of the world, as well as revisiting places I have already been to, and covering stories that many people are either unwilling or unable to see.
What do you love most about art and artists in the Middle East?
What I really admire about art in the Middle East is its rapid progression over the past 10 years. It is an exciting time to be an artist in the region, as it finally starting to become a legitimate and respectable career path. It is extremely encouraging to know that you are not only creating art for yourself, but also for a community that is supportive and receptive to your ideas. There are so many programmes that are dedicated to supporting artists and building sustainable careers for them in the region, allowing them to partake in major global art fairs and exhibitions. What I love most about artists in the Middle East is that the fear that was once there to create art that is controversial and ‘culturally unacceptable’ is diminishing. Art is a form of resistance, and over the past couple of years, innumerable works of art have been created by Arab artists in response to the political instability of the region. It is always so interesting to see how artists respond to conflict and shed light on topics that mainstream media and news outlets fails to cover.
To see more of Kinzy’s work, pick up the November edition of Emirates Woman