Zaina El-Said was born iin Amman- Jordan, of Circassian origin from the North Caucasus. She creates surreal collages, whuch tempt the viewer into a dreamlike unknown universe.
We talk to Zaina about her ability of integrating modern and traditional aesthetics harmoniously, the influence of Islamic art on her work and creating a distinguishable style.
Your family background is a blend of politicians, military personnel as well as artists and designers. What was your experience going up and how did that impact your journey to becoming an artist?
I believe it was a blessing that I was brought up in such an atmosphere. The eclectic nature of the household has given me much understanding in seeing diversity and accepting it from a young age. I was able to find harmony through contrast and develop appreciation for both worlds. Evidently, the artistic side of the family took over and shaped my choice in career as an artist, yet I think the military/politician side has raised a sense of discipline, commitment and respect, which very much assisted me during the early years of my work in art. It also somehow dominated the shape of artwork I conduct. In my work, there is usually a central character (authority figure) that is interwoven within a world of patterns, shapes, and ideas. I owe both worlds to my creativity and in a sense, I feel I am an extension of these worlds that continuously give me strength in developing what I do.
Your work tempts the viewer into a surreal and surprising universe, where do you find inspiration for the imagery and composition of your collages?
What are the concepts and stories behind your works?
I am very fond of mythology, folktales & songs , and fairytales. I continuously find inspiration from the world of imagination and bygone epics, hence, my work comes to be. I delve into the past and often listen to tales of the elders that narrate vivid fantastical accounts of a very distant past, and this is often how I begin every artwork. I am also influenced by my roots and origin from the North Caucasus, my original homeland has been a constant source of inspiration especially the ancient history, culture, ancient religion and traditions of that region. Many concepts in my work are inspired from the Caucasus and revolve around ideas that belong to the indigenous tribes of North Caucasus that are found in myths, such as shapeshifting, polytheism, reincarnation, and most prominent is animism and nature veneration.
You integrate both modern and tradition beautifully, with notable influences from Islamic art can you tell us more about your vision?
I like creating harmony through contrast, and believe that world cultures complement one another, and further believe that the core of everything is one. I aspire that my work cancels the illusion concept of time, meaning to transcend any specific era or space and blend many worlds into one. Islamic art I think represents this idea: the patterns signify balance, infinity, rhythm and heartbeat of the cosmos. Islamic art in itself transcends time, that is why I think it is appealing and I feel it compliments the message I aspire to endow the viewer with. Moreover, my late uncle Issam El-Said was a notable Islamic art scholar and artist, publishing several books on Islamic Geometry and art, most notably 'Geometric Concepts in Islamic Art' and 'Islamic Art & Architecture - The System of GeometricDesign'. His works have been a constant source of inspiration and most notably lended me with much knowledge on the creation process and spirituality behind Islamic art.
What is your process from imagination to execution?
It could be anything. It can start with the smallest pattern and build itself slowly to create the artwork, and It can also be a song, story/epic or a personal encounter or memory. I usually see things in my imagination and begin implementing them on the canvas, and the construction begins from there, changing and molding until I visually see what I had in my imagination. Many times it transforms and turns the opposite way, as if the story/ artwork is building itself by itself.
Regional Arab and ancient cultures, mythology and Islamic geometry influence your creative practice. The wide-ranging images you use generates an aesthetic that makes your work instantly recognisable. How did you create such a distinct style?
As I mentioned, I am very fond of old folk tales and mythology, and I aim that the colors complement the story that I create. I would like to think that this is the reason behind creating different work. I also owe much to the glory of nature, where endless inspiration is constantly available; the randomness of the forests and different patterns of plants and flowers endow us with much more than we think. I find it absolutely mind blowing how a forest can create such beauty from organised chaos. No flower or herb or tree was planted intentionally, everything is so random yet everything fits perfectly. I secretly wish and aspire that my work can be viewed as such.
Which artists inspire you?
So many! I am fascinated by the works of HRH the late Fakher ElNissa Zeid and George Bahgoory to name a few, and so many others from our region. Western artists such as Roy, Chagall, Matisse and the list can go on!
You have held solo and group exhibitions throughout the Middle East, Europe and Russia. What has been your most memorable moment?
I think the most memorable one was the first time I exhibited in my homeland in the North Caucasus- 2017. The Exhibition was entitled 'Dreams of Circassia', mainly because I had always dreamed of presenting my artworks to the people there, and also because it was extremely personal where all works had a distinct meaning to me personally. The exhibition represented memories, emotions and ideas I had carried from childhood to the time I began doing artwork, thus I can say that was the most memorable exhibit until now.
What creative and artistic projects are you currently working on?
I have a few projects in hand at present, some are art installation and video animation, as well as collaborating with an international artist on a visual show.
What does the future of Islamic art look like to you?
Islamic art has always had its prominent position, and with the rise of technology I think it will reach a new level that will enable it to present the infinite possibilities it contains.
For more information follow Zaina El Said on Instagram @zainaelsaid
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