At Inside Dubai we’ve always been all about freedom of expression and art, and in the Emirati artist Amani Alshaali, what you have is not just a fine exponent of these two facets, but also an ambitious, talented young woman who is inspiring young Emiratis, and everyone else who has happened upon her work, including me.
We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with Amani recently about her art and her hopes for the future. Check it:
Often artists and photographers can find it very hard to really make an impact. The medium is now flooded with people calling themselves photographers, particularly in light of the mass introduction of filtered photo apps all over the place, and often what we see being produced in modern photography lacks cutting edge, character and is sadly diluted when compared to the golden era of photography in the 60’s and 70’s, but every so often someone emerges who is able to cut through the lack of inspiration and the monotony to really grab the attention. Enter Amani Alshaali.
Amazingly, her interest in photography began when taking a photography course just two years ago. She tells the story: “I’m self-taught in photography. I started out teaching myself with books and online tutorials, and only when I was confident with a camera (and Photoshop) did I start taking workshops with Gulf Photo Plus.”
It was the course she took in November 2013 that proved the turning point for Amani: “The reason I do what I do now is purely down to Brooke Shaden. I took one of her workshops with Gulf Photo Plus on compositing and storytelling and it completely changed my life. She continues to inspire me every day.”
Amani’s work often depicts female solitude and points towards feelings of isolation, with a slightly uneasy and dark subtext. “When I started doing Fine Art Photography, it was a form of therapy for me. I created images based on my feelings, and it felt like these feelings were creating dark images,” she says.
“I’m releasing the dark or negative thoughts and feelings. Almost every image of mine tells a personal story in one way or another. What kept me going with this theme or style, aside from it being therapeutic, was the response I got when I shared my work online. It made me realise that sharing my struggles can also give people hope – to know that they’re not alone in their sadness, to know that no matter where they are in the world or what their story is, we all feel the same feelings. We are one.”
Maybe drawing upon feelings and experiences can help with conceptualising art, but actually taking the idea from the drawing board, so to speak, and seeing the concept come to life on canvas or in a studio takes not just persistence, drive and determination, but also a great deal of patience.
The creative process is not an easy one, but which part does Amani find the most enjoyable, and the most difficult?
“I enjoy the creative process from start to finish! But it’s definitely different for each picture. Sometimes I come up with an idea so easily, and shooting goes great, but editing turns out to be a challenge. And there are times when I struggle to come up with an idea, but then I do and everything else goes smoothly.
“If I had to pick though, I would say that shooting is the part I enjoy the most, because that’s when I feel like I’m actually making something out of nothing. And most of the time during my shoots, things get messy (like getting into ice-cold water, or covering myself or my model in dirt or paint) and that’s always SO much fun!”
We’ve always said that there is true talent in Dubai, and as more people come, more people with creativity will be among the numbers. Still there is a dissenting number of voices out there that claim Dubai and the UAE is without substance, and merely coat-tailing on the back of other movements in more generally creative places, so where would Amani take someone with this rather blinkered view of our city?
“I would take them to AlSerkal Avenue. There are so many wonderful galleries there that showcase all kinds of art, from both national and international artists, and I’d show some of the other work from locally based photographers. Some of my favourites include Moza Al Falasi (who takes some of the most beautiful pictures of horses and UAE wildlife I’ve ever seen), Conel van Zyl (a lovely South African girl I had the pleasure of meeting through Gulf Photo Plus who takes whimsical and dreamy self portraits), and Nasser Ali (his self portraits are both inspiring and hilarious, he’s a Photoshop genius!).”
For Amani, the future is full of opportunity, and she has some huge projects coming up: “Starting from September 2015, I’ll be exhibiting my work with The Empty Quarter in DIFC. I have a bunch of projects planned for the next two years! I’m planning on creating a new series inspired by an image I’ve already created (Darkness Beckons) and I’ve sort of built on it to tell a story. I’m also in the brainstorming phase for a photographic novel I’m hoping to finish and publish within a year or two.”
And for the future: “Ever since I was in high school, I knew I wanted to teach. At the time, I thought I would teach English Literature because I had so much love for it (and still do), but now I want to teach photography. I’m hoping to introduce it as a form of therapy. So instead of teaching the technicalities of photography, I want to teach people how they can use it to heal themselves and tell their stories.
“I always joke about wanting to live in a cabin in a forest in Ireland, just because I absolutely love nature and I love being outdoors when it’s cold (I also love the Irish accent). I don’t think my inspiration and creativity are dependent on where I live though; I think anyone can be creative and inspired no matter where in the world they are.”
Check out Amani on the whole range of social media channels, and her very own website: