Born in Manama, Bahrain, and raised in Dubai and India, Hesham Malik is a true global citizen. The internationally-acclaimed abstract artist tells Vision how he got started and his future plans in the UAE
Q: How did you start your career as an artist?
A: I applied to do art at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. I stood in a huge line waiting to see if they would accept me but they said art was not for me, I should enrol for a business diploma instead, which I did. But art is always in you; it pulls you in. I carried on painting independently and sold pieces, sometimes for $5 each.
I have had epilepsy since the age of seven. One day, I had a seizure while painting a portrait and I must have fallen on it so the paint spread. People saw it as something deliberate, abstract. I thought, ok then let me try abstract painting. Abstract art is creating a disturbance in an object. I had to learn how to do something I had done before unintentionally. It was what made me friends with my epilepsy.
Q: How has Dubai influenced your work?
A: I was born in Bahrain, and have lived in India, Dubai, Canada and Czech Republic among other places. Each place has its own colours. I associate Dubai with a lot of gold, silver, red and black – particularly for calligraphy. I tend to mix sand in with the paint. I know people shouldn’t touch art, but I encourage people to go and feel my paintings – you can feel the grains. There are many great calligraphers here in Dubai, so it’s no use me just doing calligraphy. When I mix modern art and calligraphy, that’s when it’s interesting for people.
Q: How are you helping spread awareness of art in the UAE?
A: Before, my pieces would usually be sold to collectors before the public could get to see them. As soon as your art becomes some sort of asset class, it’s difficult for the public to interact with it.
I’m currently creating artworks for a workshop of modern art in November-December for students at the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. I hope the workshop – called “L'union fait la force" (Unity is Power) – will help create a spirit of engaging with art.
There will be around 25 to 30 pieces on display for one month. It gives students the chance to go, find something interesting and critique the work. They will be able to see almost every style from abstract to pop art; the works will touch on Arabic culture, too. I’ll be there for one of the weeks so the students have the opportunity to get feedback and ask questions.
Q: There’s often a strong link between art and charity. Is this true for you too?
A: In October, some of the unsold pieces from previous collections and some new pieces – 30 artworks in all – will be auctioned for charity at a show called “The Sense of Touch” in aid of the Senses Residential and Day Care Centre in Dubai. It’s a non-profit organisation for children with special needs. The staff use art, speech and music therapy to nurture the children.
The children themselves influenced the new pieces. Children play around with colours, it’s nice to see how their imaginations work at such a young age. The exact dates will be confirmed soon.
Art is always in you; it pulls you in
Q: What other exhibitions do you have planned?
A: In January-February next year I will be showing 30 modern artworks at the Showcase Gallery in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. The show is titled “Ilat” (rain) based on time I spent with the Samburu, Gusii and Masai tribal groups in Kenya who shared their knowledge and way of life with me. When they found out I was an artist, the tribes invited me to learn from them. I made notes, instead of sketches, so I would not ruin the moment. It’s taken four years to develop and do justice to the artwork, and find a gallery that takes pride in the African sector.