Abu Dhabi: For years, Ameera Al Zaabi did not know of her talent as an artist. It was only in 2019 that the Emirati discovered her skills, following an unexpected brush with a hearing impairment.
In doing so, Al Zaabi was also able to find her own innate strength at overcoming adversity through art, which spurred her on to empower other artists.
Speaking to Gulf News, Al Zaabi, who has curated an ongoing four-week exhibition of works by 24 emerging artists in the UAE, said she wanted to pass on a message of strength and hope to other artists, as well as people of determination.
Al Zaabi had been a third-year student majoring in Mechatronic Engineering when she began experiencing the first symptoms of a hearing impairment. “There was a constant ringing in my ears that would just not stop. All of us can experience this kind of a ringing sensation, but it became a pervasive sensation for me that I could not ignore, no matter what I tried,” she said.
Al Zaabi consulted a variety of specialists about her condition. While they could not point to the actual cause, the doctors suspected that her work with machinery had something to do with her impairment.
“It wasn’t necessarily considered to be the cause, but I was working for hours every day with noisy machines, hydraulics and equipment in the laboratory. This was expected of a third-year Mechatronic Engineering student, but my doctors did not think it was safe for my hearing,” Al Zaabi said. The Emirati had to eventually drop out of university in a bid to preserve her hearing.
Still, she continued to struggle with the ringing sensation. When medications did not help, her doctors finally recommended that Al Zaabi try on some hearing aids. “The aids helped block off the ringing, but they brought their own set of challenges. At first, after having been unable to hear for so long, noises began to seem far too loud. After prolonged use of the aids, all I wanted to do was to remove them and take a break,” Al Zaabi said.
She slowly got used to wearing the aids, which also required her to ensure that the devices were constantly powered on.
Many hearing-impaired people report awkward social situations, but Al Zaabi said she was able to navigate them without too much of a hassle. “Fortunately, I have been able to lip-read quite efficiently. And when people don’t know, I quietly explain to them not to mistake my inability to hear them as an instance of my neglect,” Al Zaabi said.
Introduction to art
Al Zaabi’s introduction to art happened around that time, while she was learning to navigate her impairment. Faced with a lot of free, unencumbered time, she had begun trying out a variety of activities. “At first, I gave photography a shot. Then I decided to try painting. Buying notebooks and pencils, I started with sketching, then graduated to canvases and paints. And I discovered I loved it!” Al Zaabi said.
Along with photography and art, Al Zaabi also tried out baking and began to explore the world of anime.
“It was the art and the anime that stuck. In fact, some of my earliest paintings were based on Spirited Away, [a Japanese animated fantasy film]. I soon ditched photography and baking, which I did not enjoy as much!” she said.
Interior design degree
Having found her love for art, Al Zaabi began looking around for an art-related degree and chanced upon Interior Design at Zayed University. “I wanted to pursue art as more than just a hobby. I am now in my third year of Interior Design and I love it. I am so glad I had to make the switch!” the budding artist and student said.
What has really helped Al Zaabi through her journey is the belief that there is always a reason behind adversity. “I kept telling myself that there is a reason why I was diagnosed with the impairment. I certainly had to deal with negative energy from some people, but my parents have always been very supportive. I also worked hard not to let people get to me and it is this strength that I want to convey to other people of determination,” she said.
Al Zaabi said her journey is proof that people of determination can achieve anything to which they set their mind. She is also keen on empowering other artists like herself and therefore curated works for the Khalifa Park Library (KPL) Art Hub exhibit, organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism’s Maktaba library management section. “I presented five works and have already sold two. And I want to help other artists find the same recognition,” she said.
In future, Al Zaabi also hopes to learn sign language. “Most importantly, I want to continue achieving new heights in my life, and help others do the same,” she said.
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KPL Art Hub
The Art Hub exhibition is a platform designed to connect artists with the public. Al Zaabi is one of five core artists who have their pieces on display throughout its duration, alongside emerging artists Saud Al Ahmad, Ahmed Abdullah Al Dhali’i, Maryam Issa Al Rumaithi and Alia Khalifa Muhammad. Five of 19 other artists are being selected to display their work until November 25.
The exhibition is accompanied by a public programme of events and workshops hosted by various participating artists. Al Rumaithi has also been organising children’s workshops at the site of the exhibition each week.