Julia Ibbini’s work can really stimulate intellectual thought and talk. The long-term Abu Dhabi resident is an artist (and self-proclaimed teadrinker) of substance and many stories. Each corpus has a telling beginning – resulting in an even richer, deeper manifestation for us to absorb…
Tell us a bit about your background, you’re British Jordanian and live in Abu Dhabi, how did that come about?
My mum and dad met in the UK (dad’s Jordanian, mum is British) and ended up coming to Abu Dhabi on a short contract to set up a company – 35 years later they are still here! I’ve lived here most of my life apart from university in the UK.
Does your mixed heritage inform your art and how you create your collections?
I think growing up in a vibrant and mixed environment has very much informed my visual vocabulary which has a great deal of colour and complex use of pattern and line. When I’m doing research for new collections I look at both contemporary culture in the Middle East and I also look at much older methods of working and approach to form (I spent a wonderful couple of days at the V&A Museum in London earlier this year, and was fascinated by their Asia collections).
Are you an artist by training or did this develop spontaneously?
I wanted to study fine art at university, but was told by assessing tutors during my foundation year that I couldn’t paint or draw so therefore wasn’t really suitable fo that specialisation. i did a degree in visual communications which allowed me to delve into areas such as video, printmaking, web design, typography, and digital art. I think in the end that was a more valuable learning experience and set me on the path to becoming the artist I am today.
We’ve noticed your work stems from very visceral places – there are rich stories behind your collections. Talk us through “Play”.
Play was developed at the end of a very long-lasting and frustrating creative block. I wanted to make some ‘important’ pieces of work (whatever that means) but couldn’t get a single idea to surface. Then I thought ‘to heck with it’ I’m just going to muck around and see what happens. Somewhere in the resulting chaos of the studio emerged studies and photographs centered on fabric suspended in water. Many hours and hundreds of photos later, I began developing a series of complex almost map-like drawings which were then painstakingly overlaid with detail work to provide a sense of movement in the final piece. I shared the story of how I developed that collection because I think it’s very important for people to have a sense of the process involved in making art. It’s hard (but hopefully important) work, with long hours spent toiling away, a few moments of inspiration, a lot of tea-drinking, and a little bit of dancing in the studio to very loud music.
How do you take loaded themes and issues (social, cultural) and create a piece of art out of it? Where do you even begin?
Unlike many artists who use sketchbooks and drawings as a starting point, I’m more partial to the written word. I tend to keep a notebook of ideas, musings, notes on events that have happened, thoughts I’ve had. Sometimes a single sentence can provide the basis for an entire body of work. Sometimes it’s a number of different ideas about identity and elements of the human condition that are woven into pieces through visual elements.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility to address wider issues through the medium of art?
Possibly. Will my work ever be political? Probably not.There are plenty of tremendously great people addressing many issues already. I feel a sense of responsibility to share the journey of being a creative person with others by being as open as I can about the how and the why of creating work. I am constantly developing my skill set as an artist so that the ideas I share have become bigger and more complex. I also feel (and I’m going out on a limb here) that there is too much contemporary art out there made by people who have no talent other than to spin a few clever words with their gallery representative; art that is boring, ugly and completely unimaginative. I feel it’s partly my responsibility as an artist to take a stand and make work that is wildly colourful, sparkling and beautiful, with chaos and tangled webs of ideas. Because it’s that kind of art that instils a sense of wonder and excitement in us all.
We love your collection: Ode To The Sea, commemorating Abu Dhabi’s beautiful waters. What do you love most about the city?
My earliest memories are of the sea here and I think that’s what I love most about Abu Dhabi.
What has been your most profound collection to you on a personal level?
I think probably ‘Right Here, Right Now’. The starting point for the collection was about motherhood and the inevitable change that comes with having a child. I have a terrific relationship with my daughter who is seven now and my art has changed in many ways since she was born; that collection was the starting point of a more mature approach in thinking and developing the work.
Have you got any upcoming exhibitions in Abu Dhabi we can look forward to?
I run an artist-led organisation called No White Walls and we hold an annual show which opens each September at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.