Spoken art in Dubai

Zambian artist Victor Sitali talks about his new exhibition

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Peter Feely catches up with young Zambian artist Victor Sitali ahead of his exhibition at Art Couture.

Artist Victor Sitali, 23, grew up in Lusaka, Zambia, where at the age of two he tragically lost his hearing. Sitali moved to Dubai in 2006 and with the help of Al Fahidi-based art organisation Mawaheb, he developed his painting skills under the supervision of the studio’s founder, Wemmy de Maaker. Through Mawaheb, Sitali was also able to forge a friendship with UK artist Trevor Waugh, who further developed and honed his talent.

As Sitali only communicates through sign language, the concept for this exhibition will be that he is going to let his art do the talking for him. In his own words: ‘A voice can be heard not only by sound, but through the work of hands.’ Here, he tells us about his art, inspirations and his incredible journey.

Please can you explain the story behind your painting, The Young Woman?
I have been working with Trevor [Waugh] for some time to improve my skills. He is my painting mentor and he gives me guidance and demonstrates techniques in both oil painting and watercolour. This is an ongoing study. Recently, I have been in residence at his studio in the UK. This is where I painted in oils for the first time, and realised the freedom of expression that this could offer me. The Young Woman was one of my first attempts in this method and I tried to convey all the excitement I felt in this painting with the beauty of the female face and my love for the medium.

What is the most important thing that you have learnt from UK artist Trevor Waugh?
From Trevor it’s hard to say what the most important thing I’ve learnt so far is. I think the joy and fun of having one-to-one tuition and watching my journey as an artist develop and change is the most important thing. Trevor always tries to push me to the next step within myself and gives me challenges to respond to. Perhaps the most important thing is thinking.

How did you meet Gulshan Kavarana, who introduced you to the founder of Mawaheb, Wemmy de Maaker?
I met Gulshan in 2008 at Dubai Centre for Special Needs where I was a student and Gulshan was a volunteer. It is from there where she spotted my potential talent and we developed a good working relationship. By 2010 Gulshan introduced me to Mawaheb, which is directed by Wemmy. I’ve been there ever since being under their supervision and guidance. I’ve been supported greatly in art circles by them.

You’ve painted Bob Marley and Heath Ledger – how do you choose your subject matter?
I choose my subjects by interest, visual attraction. Sometimes they are legendary figures or people from entertainment or simply just a result of other people’s requests.

Do you think that being deaf affects your art work and if so, how?
I don’t think that my deafness affects my art in any way. Actually art helps me communicate, participate and get involved with the masses.

You paint with watercolours and oil. What is your favourite method to use and why?
At the moment I am more conversant with oil paint, it is easier, more attractive and durable as a material.

How long does it take you to complete a painting and how do you know when it’s finished?
Any one individual painting has its own unique development. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, but then can be easy to finish a painting. Other times, it’s the reverse. I have recently learnt more about Alla Prima painting at Trevor’s Studio. Alla Prima works can be done in one session or can take weeks or even months. You just have to be aware of the work and listen to it throughout the process, then you will know when it is finished – it will tell you.

The Lowdown

Exhibition: Spoken Art from August 22-30 at Art Couture, Al Badia Golf Club, InterContinental Dubai Festival City, (04 601 0101).
Artist: Victor Sitali
Price range on works: On request

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