UAE resident Raisa Mariam Rajan, the CEO of a facilities management company who moonlights as an artist, was sceptical when an email inviting her to showcase her work at the International Contemporary Art Cannes Biennale (ICACB) reached her inbox.
Held every year alongside Cannes Film Festival, the prestigious ICACB plucks 60 artists from around the world to display their art. This year, the self-taught artist, architect and entrepreneur who grew up in Sharjah was hand-picked.
“Their mail came out of the blue when I was celebrating my Guinness World Record achievement for my painting with sustainable materials last December. I thought it was a spam mail because it was too good to be true … After all, participating at the Art Cannes Biennale is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any artist,” said Raisa in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
She believes that her earlier art exhibit named ‘Mother’s Aura’ at the UNESCO Heritage site La Pedrera in Barcelona, which shows a child being protected in a mother’s womb along with five elements of nature, might have appealed to the curators choosing artists for this year’s CACB.
Upon realising the authenticity of their invitation, Raisa began working on ‘Reflections’ — her exhibit for Cannes made fully of sustainable materials from her neighbourhood. She was intent on her masterpiece being a resounding nod to the UAE’s Year Of Sustainability.
“The fuchsia material with glasswork is from the discarded material from a random tailoring shop in Sharjah. They had thrown it down and I picked those up and stitched it in such a way that it would look nice on my art work,” said Raisa, who studied in Sharjah Indian School.
Her art exhibit made of sustainable waste materials is a portrait of two women facing each other against a black canvas. Their hair is made from brown rope and their faces are plastered with glass shards and old newspaper cuttings. She also joined hands with a prominent German athletic apparel company to drive home the message of sustainability.
“I wanted my art to reflect the struggle that women have gone through for centuries … Every woman around the world will be able to connect to my artwork — whether you are from Asia, Africa, or from any part of the world,” said Raisa. Each element in her art — be it the ropes that represent shackles that often bind women for centuries — was carefully constructed to chronicle a woman’s struggle to be taken seriously.
- From Dubai to Cannes: Michael Cinco’s fashion reign continues
- From hospital gown to designer wear at Cannes red carpet: Dubai mum and model does it all in a month
- Dubai social media star Farhana Bodi makes a splash at Cannes
- Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai and Hollywood greats Kate Winslet, Martin Scorsese headed to Cannes festival
True to her belief, Raisa told us from Cannes after her exhibit that several women came up to her during the Biennale appreciating the symbolism behind her painting. The mother of two was kicked that her art that carried an important message on women empowerment appealed to guests from around the world. She channelled characters from the iconic feminist novelist Virginia Woolf and “phoenix rising from the ashes” imagery to drive home her points.
“The pieces of newspaper clippings contains items on women’s struggle … I burnt those articles and stuck it together to create a collage. In one of those pieces, an article prophesying that women will be equal to men by 2023 is also included. But we are nowhere near that equal scenario prediction,” said Raisa.
Her own struggles as an entrepreneur where she had to fight to be heard in an industry dominated by men gave her the much-need perspective. She may have inherited her father's company to run, but her fight to remain relevant in a leadership role wasn't always easy.
The UAE and Dubai Culture authorities have supported and encouraged an artist like me by providing a great platform for us.
“But my mother, father, and my husband have always been a big pillar of strength for me. They have always pushed me to fight and stand up for what I believe in. It’s tough for a woman to prove herself in any space,” said Raisa.
While her parents were her grounding force, like most Asian guardians they wanted their child to dabble in arts, only after arming themselves with a degree that could fetch them a job at a marketplace.
“When you have a sister who’s a lawyer and a brother who’s a doctor, your parents won’t be keen about you taking a brush and walking around town. So I studied architecture because it involved drawing and painting … Art is something that heals me, while business is where I earn,” said Raisa.
She describes herself as an owl who can paint the night away, while waking up the next day to run a company.
“My art is what soothes my soul,” she added.