Hidden away in the Nad Al Sheba neighbourhood, Tashkeel is an art oasis far from the madding crowd. A space designed for artists working and living in the UAE, founded by the acclaimed artist herself, Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum. Challenging and inspiring its visitors, Tashkeel is anything but static. When you walk through the front door, you land directly in the exhibition space, which transforms monthly with an ever-evolving program.
Although her presence is always felt and she is very involved in the day-to-day, Lateefa bint Maktoum is rarely seen at the creative hub that is Tashkeel––until now, that is, as she prepares to take center stage with an exhibition of her works running throughout February 2017. Through a series of photographs, the artist shares a new chapter in her life. The exhibit is aptly titled “New Chapter” and expresses her personal journey into motherhood, transporting us through her own emotional and psychological experience. The artist transitions from post-photography montages to digital photography, sharing visuals and short video clips.
Here, Vogue Arabia reveals some of the artist’s work from “New Chapter,” in an intimate conversation with Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum herself.
How much has your process changed with the use of technology?
I had to think about the process of making, especially with having a baby to care for, as this meant that I couldn’t dedicate as much time to Photoshop as I had in the past. I used to sit in front of the computer for 8 to 12 hours straight sometimes. I would take photographs of each prop separately; in some instances I didn’t even know what composition I would make until I was in the process of editing. When using my Hasselblad camera, the image resolution is too high to combine many images, meaning the file would not save in Photoshop. I had to find solutions that challenged me, to find a way to make the images tell my story with less time spent editing, but with the same impact. I also wanted to give myself a challenge, as using Photoshop was starting to become easy for me.
For this project, I decided to set up the scene in front of the camera, which gave me the challenge of having to plan every detail, to have all the props with me before I took the photograph. My sketchbook was a great tool to help me resolve the composition and the details in the image. It was a safe place to “think out loud” on paper without losing too much time seeking out items for the images.
This process of forcing myself to slow down and think before I make is similar to motherhood in the sense that it made me focus on what is important; when you slow down with your process you get to see clearly, to listen to your instinct and move in that direction.
How big a role does staying physically and mentally fit play for you?
I try my best to stick to a healthy regimen. I have been doing CrossFit since 2013; it has taught me how to pace myself in training. Some workouts are called “chippers”––they are ones that are long and tiring but you have to chip away at them bit by bit to get through.
To learn how to pace yourself is a valuable lesson.
Pacing teaches us to stop and focus completely on what we are doing at the time, giving it our whole attention before moving to what’s next. This method of working helps to balance life and work. My balance is being a mother, being a company director, and being an artist. It is not easy to be all three and do them all well. Fitness is a way to keep me mentally fit, to relieve any stress I have, to be able to think more clearly, and to rest better at night, which all helps with my creative work.
At your wedding, you organized a performance piece where your photographs came to life with real mannequins. How much is your life part of your art, and vice versa ?
Without my story there would be no art and without art there wouldn’t be a creative outlet for me to resolve my thoughts and feelings. Art is a way to express my emotions through a visual story.
The wedding was a once in a lifetime performance piece called Lucid Dream––the concept came through a conversation with Hiba Al Bakree and Mutasem El Baba when I told them that what they produce it is like stepping into one of my artworks. Under their guidance, a team flew in from the States to produce it and made my artwork move and breathe like never before.
What clothes are you wearing in your “New Chapter” photographs?
All the clothes were handmade by my personal tailor. I wanted the clothes to be current, refreshing, and timeless. I didn’t want to use the black abaya as that would be seen as a cultural symbol. I wanted people to read beyond the surface of the dress and see the story that I am trying to tell. I chose each fabric according to the frame in which it would be placed. In one of the images, Family, I used real flowers stitched on fabric. The flowers came from a plumeria obtusa flower tree, which is planted outside of my window. I had to photograph the image the same day that the flowers were stitched on so that they did not decay. I had to be the maestro of the situation and have perfect timing to be able to have all the elements ready, in order to take the photograph at the right time.
In Patience, I actually wallpapered the house walls specifically for the photograph. I took a piece of wallpaper to the fabric shop to find one that matched the material. I was lucky enough to find a 3D version in fabric.
I wanted to symbolize that, when a woman gives attention to a house, it becomes a home.
She becomes a part of it and it a part of her. The clocks above her state the time the photograph was taken, in order to symbolize that patience is something lived in the now. It is not something that can be thought about in the future or past.
“New Chapter” by Lateefa bint Maktoum closes on 23 February 2017 at the Tashkeel Studio and Gallery. The next exhibition at the gallery is “Mind the Gap,” a group exhibition that opens on March 1 and runs until April 6 2017 at the Tashkeel Studio and Gallery, Nad Al Sheba 1 Dubai, UAE.