Photographed by: Sara Hammad
!nspire is a new series where Al Mahha Art Blog introduce young creatives who are involved in the art scene but not as artists. They may be curators, writers, entrepreneurs… etc. In other words “behind the scene” team! They will share with you their story; how they got into visual art, inspiration, challenges and what keeps them going in a long yet very rewarding field when they could have chosen any other job. !nspire series aims, as it is named, to motivate younger generation to get more involved in art movements around them, especially in a region where this movement is radically growing. Each month new persona… Each month new inspiration!
September’s !nspire is an enthusiast, ongoing flame of energy young woman who insists on making a difference in Kuwait’s art scene; leaving her passion in art, international studies, experience and her ambition lead the way of change. Events Manager at one of Kuwait’s establish fine art galleries Dar Al Funoon & Founder of Visual Therapy, an amalgamation of projects which come together to create an aesthetic platform for innovative work and ideas in all creative fields, Shahad Bishara.
Shahad proved herself in Kuwait art scene since 2009, launching the first art blog in the country that soon grew into an online creative platform & initiative. And when she joined Dar Al Funoon, she helped in reviving the space with grabbing attention of younger audience in happenings and events there, launching earlier this year Affordable Art for emerging artists from across the region and later on holding Not Just A Pop Up, which is Visual Therapy’s first show. One thing for sure about Shahad is that she is here to stay & be around to change!
When I told her about the concept of !nspire she was very thrilled and kindly welcomed me & a photographer friend Sara Hamad to her “hub”, a majlis in her house which Shahad turned into a comfy working space… “It’s my brainstorming/chillout place” she told me as we were sitting on the couch, drinking coffee & facing a beautiful large painting she & a friend did. “It was my brother’s majlis but when he moved to the States I did some transformations here!” Clearly this young lady has a magical touch in transforming things artistically…
“I always had an influence of art, my aunt Sabiha Bishara was an artist & Jaafar Islah would always come to our house, I grew in that surrounding. In high school, I felt art spoke to me more than History or Science and would always participate in art competitions & win! I was big fan of Sami Mohammed and one of teachers got me a book of his work.
When I graduated from high school my father, who is very encouraging, advised me to study something related to art but can basically get me a job too, that’s how I thought of studying graphic design… In San Diego State University, I studied Art and Emphasis of Graphic Design, we used to draw and create an entire logo by hand not computer or adobe and graphic designers would come and give us classes and we visit their studios. Graphic Design is something that combines art/marketing/knowledge; everything has to have a base.
I came back to Kuwait in 2005 and pretty much worked in advertising agencies which was (sighs) not fun at all! You see, it makes sense that graduates of graphic design or art start their career in advertising agencies, where else can you work?! At the beginning of your career life you think Oh let me try working in what i studied but it all change once you do… Plus when I started almost 10 years ago, the market here didn’t understand capabilities of graphic designers, but now it is different. I hated the long working hours in too corporate less creative & many times limited creativity projects, where you always have to please the client! Sometime I felt I was creating something, but in the end of the day I am just a graphic designer who gets to do the dirty work. All that killed it for me and had enough in the field, after 4 years I shifted into fashion & worked in Al Othman…”
The Chapter of Visual Creativity… In Fashion
“I was the Creative Director at Al Othman – a famous boutique in Kuwait and GCC retailing high end brands – where I re-launched it from zero to introduce it in a new way, took care of Social Media and worked on window’s display which kind of felt like creating an art installation. It was a new shift in my career life but during the 4 years of working there, I always had on mind I want to focus in art. Honestly, even before joining Al Othman I had this idea, that’s when I launched Visual Therapy, exactly two weeks before working in the outlet in 2009…
“I wanted to do something for myself and I was at a point in my life where I felt I had enough! Looking back, it was the perfect timing to start the blog because a lot was happening in Kuwait, you would find me in every event to cover it with a friend who took care of taking pictures. That didn’t last for long because I had a demanding job at Al Othman and I can’t make it to every event; it’s hectic, besides people might like it or not. So I shifted from writing about local events to finding international and local talents & write about them for 3 to 4 years.
One day, I decided I want to do something BIG with Visual Therapy; so I did a small collaboration with young artist creating t-shirt, revamped the website and my network of artists grew as I met most through galleries’ press release, contact the artist for online interview and then keep in touch with them. You see Visual Therapy is not just a blog, it is a complete online initiative where I blog, exhibit, sell art supplies and soon original prints and artworks by artists. There was no art blog in Kuwait back then I used to get 20 hits per day, now it reaches 2000 & keeps on growing and growing!
Dar al funoon…
“Visual Therapy started the journey and Dar Al Funoon emphasized it! In 2010 I did many interviews with galleries to work as a part time, approached the ones I wrote about but they advised me to take a course first then apply for the job – noting, I studied it for 4 years & worked in galleries back in the States!
The weird thing is I never went to Dar Al Funoon! Maybe because I felt it’s too posh and for elite?! I don’t know, but I tried my luck! Gallery Manger and Owner Lucy interviewed me and we talked about what I can bring into the already planned season, I told her it is important to me that I learn then we take it from there. I got the job in August 2010 and had to prove that I deserve the job & later on consider hiring me full time. I had to learn all the other ”so-boring” stuff before doing exhibitions and curating, which included write up, press releases, invitations… I did that for 6 months, proved myself BIG TIME, promised Lucy she won’t lift a finger if she hires me (laughs) that is when Lucy, who I consider her my mentor, took me onboard!
I took care of the gallery’s social media, launched its’ blog and started organizing exhibitions and events. Back then, I never thought I want to become a curator but Dar Al Funoon opened my eyes to potential and possibilities in art career, and I am learning. The first two events I would get group of artists then create a show, however in the upcoming ones – fall 2013 & winter 2014 – I will create proposal then find artist fit into it… That’s what I call proper curating (smiles).
Kuwait VS. America
“How is Kuwait art scene different to the one in States?! Wow way different! Even in the small things like period of a show; for example, here exhibitions maximum lasts for two weeks, whereas in States they run for a month. When I asked why, I was told people get bored! Well, people get bored from coming every week to a different exhibition! In Kuwait, we have something I like to call it Recycling The Same Artists when you either see same artist but in different gallery, or repetitive art. The scene in the States is very established and galleries know what they want but in Kuwait you can still mold it.
Let me be very honest here, the problem with working with local ones is they don’t understand the relationship of commitment between a galleriest and artists: you can’t walk around and make other commitments or plans! Moreover, I honestly think the worst thing artist do is walk around and sell his work! You can’t be a marketer & artist, create art and let professionals take care of other issues.
“I want to build build build! More knowledge & experience to help opening my own gallery one day, that won’t be typical; it will be a creative space, informal showcase, introduce new perspectives, open up this market to international scene & vasa-versa.. For the meantime, I’m focusing on separating my work at Dar Al Funoon from Visual Therapy so people don’t mix between them. I am planning an interactive event for Visual Therapy this fall, not in the gallery, where the entire theme lead me to artists & venue but I can’t give more details (she did tell me what where and when but will keep it on the hush hush for now for element of suspense 😉
I want to raise the level of art standards in Kuwait; because firstly, I don’t want to see another repetitive big artist show over & over and hear a young artist saying I want to be like X or Y… No you don’t! You want to be yourself. Secondly, people underestimate art exhibitions in Kuwait. Dude! It takes a lot of preparations to hold one!
A Piece of Advice…
For artist: push yourself properly, you can’t be in your own bubble, never ever market yourself or bust out your work at gallery’s face! Find the right gallery for your art and keep in mind feedbacks and criticism help you develop. Residency! Residency! Residency! It will take your career into another level, measure your work, and know where it stands because it is not an accomplishment if your friend & family bought your art.
Galleries need to expand their crowd, introduce new artists. In five years we need more exposure to contemporary art & more genuine designs. For both: no repetition please! If you want to do something that is already there, do it in a differently, add your input, get out of the shell and comfort zone.
Lastly, internship does miracles! It teaches you a lot: I did 5 internships unpaid just to get the experience; you will never know if you like or hate this field unless you try it, the hard way! Studying art is one thing but working is different. If you love it, just keep doing it, work hard and you will get big rewards… It took me years to reach where I stand now and I am in the middle of the way, it’s not over for me because you will see me around for long…”