“I reject having ideas sold to me, rather than believing in them”
Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali, or Amishka, was born in 1989 in Jeddah, (Saudi Arabia). She studied graphic design at Dar Al Hekma College and is currently doing her post-graduate in London at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.
Amishka’s works explore the use of stencil art, graphic design and borrow from pop Saudi and Arab culture to create a subtle and humorous representation on art and contemporary society. She analyses the position of women, patriarchy, culture and religion.
Amishka recently exhibited at the Alāan gallery in Riyadh and the British Museum in a parallel show to the British Museum’s seminal Hajj exhibition in 2012. Earlier this year, she participated in We Need to Talk exhibition in Jeddah, organised by Edge of Arabia which is an independent arts initiative developing the appreciation of contemporary Arab art and culture with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia.
The Hejaz region is known for the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, its main city though is Jeddah. The Hejaz has significance in the Arab and Islamic historical and political landscape and remains an important place for Muslims across the world. This territory play an important role in Amishka’s art portfolio in shaping her art and creating a signature in her art works. Mashallah News got the opportunity to talk with Amishka about the Hejaz and her vision of art.
You have been branded by the media as one of Saudi’s first street artists?
At first I refuse to be branded as such. There are many Hejazi street artists but probably they need to be out there in streets more.
Ok then. Who are you now?
I am a different person every day.
When I have Amishka in mind, I have the Hejaz art scene in mind, why is that?
That’s an honour. Probably it’s the soil carrying me as a seed. I belong to no one, and to no place but to this sacred land neglected by many and tortured by some.
What does Hejaz represent to you, and how do you describe your relationship with the Hejaz?
It’s a mother-daughter relationship. I learned a lot from that connection as a person and an artist. I relate to it based on where inspiration takes me and how imagination forms the presence of that place.
When did your interest in the Hejaz region start?
It didn’t start, as it was growing with time. My family comes from the Hejaz and the values and cultures I was brought up with it, starting from the simplest traditions concerning food and clothes to how people used to interact and communication with each other with represent the essence and authenticity of the Hejaz.
I started to take actions against the demolition of the historical sites and the uprising of the new landscape a couple of years ago when I started to feel the uprising of this new capitalist identity. Mecca clock tower was an eye opener to the ugly facade of the development going on, adding to Jabal Omar.
Could you give more details about this?
In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam and a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, is now overshadowed by the Jabal Omar complex, a development of skyscraper apartments, hotels and an enormous clock tower. To build it, the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. Other historic sites were lost too, including the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block.
How do you see art? As something neutral, as a form of expression, as activism or something else?
I feel it.
Why street art? Why not to stick to galleries? What do you see in streets?
I reject having ideas sold to me, rather than believing in them. Modern day art, generally speaking, lacks respect towards its audience. Artists become businessmen, art pieces become projects, and the audiences invest in art rather than appreciating it. I protest against this, and as cheesy as this may sound, I believe that art is for everyone. No artist should care if an idea sells or if a space will be provided to execute it or not. I might be an idealist too.
To balance it, I appreciate the role of galleries that understand the role of true art and what it can add to society. But street art is the most spontaneous form art can reach.
As a women living in Saudi, the public sphere is a challenging place to be in, could you please tell us more, how do you managed to enter Jeddah’s public sphere?
It doesn’t matter being a woman; if I were a man I would challenge the same difficulties too. Jeddah is growing too fast and it’s a great challenge to survive the contradicting nature of the place that’s fighting to survive and struggling to find a place between tradition and modernism. I never thought of becoming a street artist, nor making a difference, to be honest. I’m kind of a pessimist. As it started, I just followed my feelings and sprayed a wall, which inspired me to spray many others.
Other than Hejaz, what topics are you interested in?
Anything that has meaning and adds meaning to life.
Anything you wanted to add that the media ignorance of Sarah has missed?
I do more than graffiti. Graffiti was a destination I reached when I was experimenting with what I had at the time: I had paper and tried to cut it, and I did stencil, and then eventually I found myself doing graffiti. But, at the end of the day, I’m still experiencing life through different mediums. From looking at my art works you can notice the different mediums I’m experimenting with!