It’s all about a messy bedroom art studio, pencil stubs, pocket-sized sketchbooks, and a day job. Khalid Mezaina has teamed up with Capsule Arts to release a limited edition print for Ramadan. The piece highlights the GCC institution of the porta-mosque, temporary mosques that can be found all over the region to give people the chance to pray while driving on major highways, working in construction zones, or living in rural areas away from a formal, permanent sacred space. By using his signature whimsical graphic style to illustrate an informal cultural institution, the print elevates the porta-mosque to pop culture status.
Read on for my interview with the Dubai-based illustrator known for his documentary take on UAE life. Our discussion is punctuated by Khalid’s photography of local porta-mosques:
DL: What was it like to grow up in Dubai and when did you first start documenting life here through drawing?
KM: Looking back, growing up in Dubai seemed to be like any other normal childhood. The fast changes happening in the city felt normal to me because I assumed it was happening everywhere else as well! It was only when I grew up that I realized that the city changed so much in such a short timeframe. I look at it as growing up ‘with’ Dubai, rather than growing up ‘in’ it. Just like me, I think the city was, and still is, evolving, defining who it is and its place in the world.
DL: Is the porta-mosque particular to the UAE?
KM: I don’t think porta-mosques are specific to the UAE. They actually exist all over the region where there are construction sites, real estate developments or a labor force community. Even though these mosques are so simple in their construction, they still have so much character and individuality to them. These mosques tell stories about the communities that congregate within their space, and how religion is important and sacred no matter what social class you come from.
DL: How did you go about researching porta-mosques to illustrate for your print?
KM: I drove around Dubai (and other nearby UAE cities) taking quick photographs of existing porta-mosques for reference. Once back in the studio, I worked on one drawing, extracting elements and recreating my own version of a porta-mosque as a final illustration. Once I was satisfied with the penciled version, I inked the drawing, which is what you currently see as the final version.
DL: How and where do you typically draw and are you ever tempted to try other styles or mediums?
KM: As cliché as this might sound, I draw everywhere! From doodling during slow meetings, to sketching during my travels, I try to draw at every given chance. I carry sketchbooks with me everywhere, so all my artworks/illustrations always begin as a pencil drawing in my sketchbook, which I later ink and scan to modify as final versions.
I’ve always dabbled with other styles and mediums over the years. The two techniques I equally enjoy are drawing and screen-printing. But nothing ever satisfies me as much as drawing with a pencil/pen on paper.
DL: What is your studio like? Messy, neat-freak clean as a pin, covered in gum wrappers?
KM: My studio is also known as my bedroom. And my bedroom is absolutely messy! I am not proud of its current state and I wish I could be more organized. But this is what happens when everything you own is confined to a private, inhabited space. Definitely not messy to the point where you’ll find gum wrappers (I don’t chew gum)! But what you’ll find are lots of books, lots of magazines, lots of music, and lots of visually stimulating belongings I’ve collected over the years.
DL: You manage some significant arts initiatives at Tashkeel by day. How do you balance a full time job with your own artistic practice? Advice, please!
KM: Balancing a full time job with my own creative practice is very difficult. Both need equal attention and both need to be moving at a constant pace. I do find it a struggle at times. But overall I seem to be doing ok. My advice for anyone in a similar situation would be not to have both practices opposing each other. In fact, both should feed off each other and help rather than hinder. What I learn at Tashkeel definitely impacts my personal practice, and vice versa.
Good Ideas: To learn more about the print visit Capsule Arts.
In the charitable spirit of Ramadan, the artist and Capsule Arts will donate 25% of the proceeds from each print to The Big Heart Campaign, a Dubai-based fund that supports Syrian refugee children in countries including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.
Photo Credits: Photographs of the porta-mosques were taken by Khalid Mezaina and are shared with his permission.