Zahra Gulraiz uses Arabic Calligraphy in her own bold and distinctive style to spread positive energy into people’s surroundings. A global citizen, she developed her signature style in Dubai where she moved after studying Fine Arts at the University of Windsor, Canada.
Along with her striking use of colours, she focuses around quotes that uplift and inspire. Her work, much like her personality, oozes charm, optimism and a sense of cheerfulness.
We talk to Zahra about turning Arabic calligraphy into vibrant unique works of art.
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and your journey to becoming an artist?
I had a compassionate, nurturing and religious upbringing where we were taught Quran from a young age. I grew up with the words of Allah. In kindergarten, I would stand and look at paintings for long periods of time. I was fascinated by colours. Noticing my love for art, my parents and grandparents bought me every Crayola set available. What really cemented my love for art was my father, who is also a very talented artist, and we would paint together for hours. My teacher soon noticed that every task I was given, I would try to put my own twist to it; from styling my school uniform differently to creating work that was unique to everyone else’s. I had to make all my work stand out. Similarly, while studying art in university, I used this time to truly explore my wildest artistic dreams and really make my work out of the ordinary. Funny enough, I found myself doodling Arabic typography within my work. This is where my artistic journey truly began. I found peace in the Arabic lettering. While my peers splashed paint around, I found myself content within my structural lines. This was the beginning.
Your work actively challenges the norms of traditional Arabic calligraphy and turns it into extraordinary pieces of art. Can you tell us more about your vision and process?
I studied traditional Arabic calligraphy growing up and enjoyed the process thoroughly. However, while I wrote it, it didn’t define the way I saw it. Growing up in the west meant merging our islamic traditions with the environment we were in. I explored this through fashion similar to how I demonstrated it in my art. My outfits would be a testament to who I was: a colourful modern Muslim in the west. Similarly, when it came to Arabic Calligraphy, I felt the need to funk it up a little. I wanted to create pieces that would be a perfect amalgamation of the east and the west.
Along with your striking use of colours, your work focuses around quotes that uplift and inspire. Why is the intention behind this?
With so much negativity in the media surrounding Muslims, it has always been my intention to show the positive and fun aspect to being a Muslim. I want people to look at my pieces and feel curious yet uplifted, with a sense of joy that is unexplainable. I want them to dig deeper to find out why they are impacted.
How did you create a unique recognizable style? Do you think it is reflective of your personality?
My art has most definitely been sprinkled with my personality. But then again, isn’t every artwork? I love how when you see an artwork, you see a piece of the artist within. The artwork almost reflects the artist who created it. The colour choices, the style, the message, the whole vibe. I experimented with my style for a number of years before creating my signature style and I am so proud of it!
Does your audience need to understand Arabic when they view your work?
I don’t think it’s necessary to understand Arabic to feel what my work is portraying at all. For those who can read Arabic, my work is like a game. They can decipher the letters and make sense of the words, similar to a jigsaw puzzle. For those who do not understand Arabic, it is a visual representation of what I want them to feel; with the colours and patterns playing a huge role in the artwork.
What emotions do you hope your work conveys and what impact do you hope it has on the viewer?
I like to lift people up. By using vibrant colours and meaningful text, I hope to inculcate positive emotions in the heart of the viewers.
Can you describe your creative process, and give us some insight into what goes through your head, from concept to creation?
It has taken years to hone my style, so now the process comes to flow quite naturally! I always start with a blank canvas and visualise the text and how it would fit within the dimensions of the canvas. The colours are chosen to communicate the emotions within the text. While working, my atmosphere is full of positive energy, good natural lighting and the smell of coffee. The vibes are unmatched.
Which is you most favourite work you have created to date?
I don’t have a favorite artwork per say but I do think the most monumental work that I created was my “Usri Yusra” piece. This 5 foot painting shaped what my signature style would be; bright, bold and unique. I remember the last brush stroke, stepping back to see the result and being overwhelmed by how much it looked like me somehow. This is the one that started it all. This is my baby.
Are any of your calligraphy works inspired specifically by the Islamic art tradition?
Although I did try to incorporate the traditional Islamic geometric patterns in one or two pieces, I think I will leave that to the professionals in that department! My style is probably inspired more by Andy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama, with their strong use of vibrant colours and repetitive patterns.
What are your thoughts on the future of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, do you think it has a place in mainstream spaces?
Traditional Arabic calligraphy is and always will be a fundamental element of Islamic art. However, the consolidation of the past and present styles of Islamic art will and already are very much accepted in mainstream spaces. The styles have been enhanced and developed to suit the era we are living in now. We are living in a time where there is Islamic art on buildings, magazines, and is even incorporated in fashion. I truly believe there will always be a place for traditional Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, but I believe that the modern style of this art form will continue to mature and progress to keep up with the times.
For more information follow Zahra Gulraiz
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.