Jalal Luqman says Emirati artists should start relying on themselves. He says it is time to wake up and stop whining. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Two decades on, Emirati artist Jalal Luqman is still going strong.

Not only has he successfully showcased his work internationally, but is also the co-founder of the Ghaf Gallery and has given back to the community in the form of his art workshops and trips for fledgling artists of all nationalities, ages and background.

"I began the Jalal Art Trip in 2008 as my way of giving back to the UAE's art community … I was always complaining that no one was supporting me, but one day when I came back from the Abu Dhabi Awards and saw how many people were giving to the community without asking anything in return, I thought, why don't I also do that?" Luqman said.

"This year we went to Sir Bani Yas, which had always been a dream of mine … it couldn't have been done without the support of the Tourism, Development and Investment Company (TDIC) and the Desert Islands," he added.

Luqman's aim for participating artists is not just to hone their skills and have their art exhibited, but also to build their confidence in themselves and their art. That is something that he could relate to, especially since he has been constantly experimenting with different styles over the course of his career.

Medium and style

"I believe I was born an artist. To quote Picasso, all children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. When I was young my dad gave me colours and over the years my medium and style have evolved … now I paint using a computer and then combine that with metal and wood, which is my signature method. Also, my subject has become more honest," Luqman said.

"Other nationalities have the opportunity to go to art schools in their own countries, but Emirati artists are mostly self-taught … if it takes [them] four years [to complete], we took 15-20 years," he added

The digital artist, who will be exhibiting his works in six international exhibitions this year, recalled fondly the first time he showcased his art outside the UAE.

"My first international exhibition was in New York in 1998. The nice thing about New Yorkers is that they tell you if you're good or bad.

"It was intimidating going in and exhibiting digital art, but it was contrary to what I expected. I stood my ground [among other artists] and it turned out to be a nice experience.

"In 2001, I remember I was exhibiting in Tokyo, which was good, but the problem with the Japanese is that they are too polite! They kept saying that everything is very nice, but I don't know if they meant it or not," Luqman said with a laugh.

But Luqman then turned contemplative when it came to discussing the future of the burgeoning art scene in the capital.

"I think the UAE is going to be an amazing place for art in the next five years, but if we don't take care of our artists, all the upcoming museums will just have empty walls and a ceiling.

Two things needed

"There are two things that must be done to ensure that doesn't happen. First, artists, especially Emirati ones, should start relying on themselves and stop blaming the government for not helping them succeed. It's time to wake up, stop whining and look at solutions that develop our art scene.

"Second, private enterprises should start taking responsibility to help the government in line with the 2030 plan," Luqman said. "However, all these initiatives … make it all worthwhile for older artists — I'm older career-wise, not age-wise," he added, smiling.