We talk to Mo Abedin and the Abu Dhabi artists changing the city scene
Lately, all the talk has been about the Mega exhibition at Dubai Mall, which is doubtless bound to go out with a bang at the FN Designs Studios auction. But we particularly loved the sneaky build up to the whole affair, in the tradition of every great thing that emerges as a sub-culture. The concept was launched with the first exhibition in May 2010, by young Urban Arts enthusiast-cum-cultivator-cum-designer, Mohammed (Mo) Abedin. He practically hatched the whole thing from his bedroom, after the idea went viral and drew in hundreds of local artists, DJs and rappers who came on board for free.
In the run-up to the 2012 exhibition the mysterious, little Mega started making their appearance at Virgin stores earlier in May. (Ignorant of the world of Mega at the time, we were instantly overcome with a desire to own one –whatever it was.) And come July, they took over Dubai mall by storm. It was officially the largest designer toy exhibit and artistic collaboration in the Middle East, featuring 125 artists and 125 Megas. In case that number goes over your head, Mo Abedin puts it into perspective like thus: ‘if you were to spend a minute appreciating each Mega at the exhibition, you’d be there for two hours and five minutes!’ What’s more, the sell-out toys are now getting international recognition, particularly from the US.
We spoke to the master-mind behind it and some of the Abu Dhabi based artists who helped breathe life into this exciting new platform for collective creativity in the UAE. These artists were Sumayyah Al Suwaidi; Claude Habib; Chritch; and Jalal Luqman –who we sadly couldn’t get hold of. First off though, we caught up with Mo, the man who brought all these names together under the Mega project, and who spends months scouting for new and existing talent he can collaborate with. With a finger in the Middle East Film and Comic Con-pie, Mo and his accomplices are on a mission to revolutionize the country in terms of pop culture.
How did MEGA start? Mega came about after I was inspired by my travels to Tokyo and noticed how much creativity, especially by local talent, was present. It was just running through the veins of the city. All I wanted to do after that was to come home and create something that could possibly have that same positive creative effect.
What’s the purpose of Mega? Mega is much, much more than a designer toy, it’s a creative platform that provides a new means of artistic expression. It’s an iconic staple for artists to gain recognition and exposure on. It’s a new way for artists to communicate to the world, to collaborate and demonstrate camaraderie. Mega to me, now is revolutionary, and is making history in this country. And more personally, Mega is my baby; a labour of love and a project that I‘ve been working on since I was 18.
What’s the public reception been like? The public loves it. It's an invasion to their senses in a good way; a surge of creativity and inspiration to all of those who pass by; a calling for those who also want to be a part of the next exhibit. It’s a true spectacle that can only be achieved through perfectly harmonious creative collaboration.
What was your contribution to the 2012 exhibition? I’ve contributed a piece titled 'Retribution.' It was an honour for me as an artist, to be able to exhibit mine along with these truly talented people.
Chritch Egyptian born Mixed Media artist, Chritch, has a style that combine symbolism, cubism and abstraction. Best known for her Foreign Faces, Proverb and Wonderland series, Chritch’s work focuses on unveiling the hidden fragility of our contemporary society. This is the first time she’s participated in Mega, which she describes as a project brimming with innovative energy, that inspired and positively challenged her as an artist. ‘My creative process starts by fracturing the picture plane into tiny cubist fragments,’ says Chritch, ‘giving birth to recognizable forms situated in abstract compositions. Mixed media like oil, acrylic, charcoal, sand and collage provide a great deal of textural nuance.’ We ask her to tell us about her Mega, Dancing in the Sunlight.
‘Although I was given total freedom to customize, transform, drill, break or add anything I liked on the Mega, I chose to keep the enigmatic, sincere and pure look that had a strong emotional impact on me,’ she says. ‘Dancing in the Sunlight Mega was inspired by the remarkable artistic and musical energy that has characterised the Egyptian people on their journey towards a new Egypt. I’m Hoping that art and music will remain powerful instruments for sustainable social change.’
Sumayyah Hailed as the first ever female Emirati digital artist, Sumayyah Al Suwaidi is an award winning digital painter, art curator, fashion designer (of label Seen) and founder of the multi-brand boutique, Grafika (you can now breathe.) Characterised by the surreal, her digital paintings are often beautifully sinister and always captivating. Sumayyah’s work involves manipulating seemingly normal and boring photographs into emotional masterpieces. Always maintaining the distinct features of her own style, Sumayyah’s paintings evoke inspired glimpses of art legends and timeless masterpieces. This having been her first time working with Mega, she tells us a little about the conception of My Little Garden.
‘At the beginning I was hesitant,’ she says, ‘because I’ve never worked out of 2D. It was a huge transition for me. I started thinking and sketching and the first thing that came to mind was a girl in a garden sitting on a swing.’ Characteristic Sumayyah, we say, and she goes on to explain the challenges of translating her own style and vision into the world of Mega ‘It wasn’t easy. The face was digitally painted, and having it printed and then sticking it on was a difficult process.’ The face it seems was just the beginning. Finding the right box, making the hair out of a human sized wig and getting the dress tailored were all interesting new challenges for the artist who wasn’t familiar with mixed media. ‘I designed the dress, got the material and the crystals and took it to the tailor.’ And what was the tailor’s reaction to her odd request, we can’t help but ask. ‘He was laughing, him and his friends. They were all laughing, saying, “she’s playing with us.” And then I asked for a zipper on the back of the dress so I could take it off and put it on when I want, and he said, “you also want a zipper?!”’ Sumayyah completed her Mega in two weeks and the result was fantastic. ‘I got a lot of good feedback and coverage on it,’ she says. ‘Everyone tells me it’s like one of my paintings. They say ‘the minute we see it we know it is Sumayyah’s work.’
Claude Lebanese artist, Claude Habib is the owner of La Parole Art Gallery, an art teacher at Paris Sorbonne University AbuDhabi, and an illustrator of children’s books. Predominantly working with mixed media, Claude’s best friend is charcoal, and then oil, sand, cement, wires –anything that works. ‘I use mixed media to accomplish my aim sometimes through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism and perhaps vivid, jarring or dynamic application of formal elements,’ she says.
This is Claude’s first time working with Mega for which she produced The Kiss Mega (a take on Gustav Klimt’s immortal piece, The Kiss.) ‘My Mega holds more hidden subjective feelings above objective observations,’ says Claude. ‘It evokes a world of harmony where the couple is insulated in sublimation from the feeling in love, being unaware of the real world, and evolving in an unreal and idealized world. The gold colour and the flowered nature (the rocks) evoke the timelessness and union of selves that a kiss can engender. The kiss exemplifies a loss of self, reconciliation and unity.’
‘Faceless and unidentifiable, the couple stimulates opposing energies contributing to the connection. The man displays a black and white contrast as his energy towards the woman. The woman balances this by using her femininity, warmth and decorous flowers as her energy towards the man.’ The Mega exhibition is on until the 8th of July at The Dubai Mall at the following locations: The Waterfall Atrium, Bloomingdale's Atrium, The Fashion Catwalk, and by Galleries Lafayette on the first floor. The Mega auction will be on July 12 at Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum's Gallery 'FN Designs Studios' in Al Serkal Avenue in Al Qouz with a special viewing on July 10 and 11.