Juri Morioka’s ‘The Night’, 2011, acrylic and gold on canvas Image Credit: Supplied

Juri Morioka loves to travel to the UAE and enjoys its multicultural ethos and the Emirati culture. The title of her latest exhibition in Dubai — Moon, Stars and Electric Lights — is taken from a painting depicting her first view of the city.

"As my aeroplane landed, I could see the Moon and the stars in the sky and thousands of lights on the ground. To me those lights represented the people that I could not see from the air. After several visits, I now have many friends of various nationalities here, and the lights of Dubai have become a symbol of the love and the warmth I have received here," Morioka says.

The Japanese artist, who is based in New York, translates her experiences and the sights and sounds she encounters into colourful, abstract oil-and-acrylic paintings.

"I try to practise the Zen concept of emptying my mind and allowing my feelings to flow spontaneously on to my canvas. But it is difficult to silence the mind and not think. As a child I loved to cover the walls in my house with crayon drawings and was always stopped from doing that. So now when I am painting, I feel I am back to my childhood, expressing myself freely without worrying about the sadness and suffering in the world," the artist says.

Interestingly, Morioka listens to Arabian pop music to get into the right frame of mind. "I first heard this music on an Emirates flight on my way to the UAE, and loved it. Every time I come here I buy some new albums and always listen to Arabian music while painting. Because I do not understand the words, the music helps clear my head and open up my mind," she says.

Many of Morioka's paintings are inspired by her experiences in the UAE, such as Umm Ali and Wind Tower.

"I am really impressed by the ingenious way the people used nature to keep their homes cool. And I love to eat Umm Ali. The first time I tasted this sweet dish was in an Emirati home. It was cooked at home with great love and served with such warmth that the whole experience was extremely special," Morioka says.

Similarly, I Know Where I Am is about her love of driving and her penchant for getting lost while driving around Dubai. But it also has a philosophical undertone. "Life is a constant process of getting lost and finding the right direction, and we are always learning as we move," she says. In East of West Morioka expresses the opinion that it is wrong to separate or differentiate East from West, because both are defined in relation to each other, and that people around the world are the same.

A striking feature in Morioka's paintings is the bright colours she uses. But the artist claims that they are not consciously chosen. "Perhaps they are connected to my childhood memories — such as the colour of my favourite schoolbag — or maybe they reflect my mood at the time. But I do not want to analyse my strokes, colours or thoughts while painting," she says.

She, however, acknowledges that the gold used in her palette has been influenced by Dubai. "After travelling to Dubai, I felt the urge to use gold leaf in my paintings. I find its glow and warmth very spiritual. And I use the same gold leaf that has been used in the Golden Shrine in Japan," she says.


Moon, Stars and Electric Lights has been organised by Vindemia.art and will run at Aspen, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates until December 15.