World Art Dubai Winner Amrita Sethi Speaks Exclusively To MOJEH

8 min read
Courtesy of Amrita Sethi

After winning the Outstanding Artist Award at World Art Dubai, Amrita Sethi speaks to MOJEH about the achievement, her artworks and how her collections celebrate her worldwide roots…

At Art Dubai‘s latest edition in March, Dubai-based artist Amrita Sethi teased the art crowd with unique pieces from her Voice Note Art collections. Fast forward to a few weeks later, Amrita finally introduced the highly-anticipated series at World Art Dubai over the weekend.

Considered to be the region’s largest affordable art fair, World Art Dubai gathered a slew of emerging and established artists to the city’s World Trade Centre where Amrita showcased two collections: Voice Note Art and the Global Collection.

Whilst it’s important for the artist to express and embrace her diverse cultural background (Amrita was born and raised in Kenya, and a British citizen of Indian origin), it was even more important to celebrate Dubai’s Year of Tolerance – a city that has been her home for 12 years.

Leaving the corporate world to scratch that artistic itch, Amrita successfully found her true calling and created a unique concept that combines sound, sight and spirit with wave images that encapsulates its meaning. The concept eventually bestowed her with the Outstanding Artist Award at this year’s edition of World Art Dubai.

Amrita Sethi

Paris and Frida Khalo | Courtesy of Amrita Sethi

Congratulations on winning the Outstanding Artist Award at World Art Dubai! What does it mean to you?

I won the Outstanding Artist Award and this was one of four awards that was presented, and to the risk of sounding cheesy, it is actually really outstanding to me (laughs). It means the world to me. And the reason why is because I’ve created this concept two years ago and I’ve worked quite hard on it actually. When I first developed it, I thought to myself well, matching the shape of the voice with the images to the meaning of the word, to create a new piece of artwork. When I first created it, I thought that somebody else has done this before because such a unique and different idea but had researched the market and having going global, I realised that nobody else has done it. I did manage to get the whole thing copyrighted. I knew it truly was a unique idea but that validated the initial concern. My second concern really was I think was great and I’m very proud of it but my worry was ‘Would other people find it interesting? Would people find it inspiring and different? Would it speak to them?’. So, what I found amazing at World Art Dubai was just the response that I got from people of all different types and nationalities – who really thought it was amazing. So actually, winning the award that it was ‘outstanding’ that it actually stood out from the crowd, and from all of the other ideas, really validated the concept to me that it was actually a really unique idea, more so that people acted so positively to it.

What is the importance of the World Art Dubai forum?

I think that some art fairs are seen to be very intimidating and not very accessible, and that’s from a point of view where you feel like you’re not artsy enough, not cool enough but also, from an affordability perspective. So it [World Art Dubai Forum] really provides the platform for people to be able to find and access affordable art but also, to do it in a safe way. They don’t feel judged by what they wear or even how they are if they do attend an art fair. That’s one thing. From an artist’s perspective, it’s a great platform for artists who don’t want to be part of a gallery yet but also want to find their voice and test their audience and get feedback directly from their clients. But in a way, it’s not too intimidating or unfriendly. I think that’s what also provides a great platform. From a collector’s perspective, it provides collectors the opportunity to find talent that they would not maybe have access too or maybe talent that didn’t have the confidence to go to a gallery but actually has a lot of talent and hasn’t fully come to their own. Theirs a different energy that comes through and I think World Art Dubai provides that.

How do you hope to evolve your artworks after this achievement?

Well, the Voice Note Art collection started mainly on cities because I think that was a great opportunity to connect with people from around the world and people who have traveled extensively. Looking forward, I really would like to develop more on words, phrases and ideas that are universal and connect everyone. For example, ‘Happiness’ which I know is very close and dear to the Sheikh’s heart and also, here in the UAE, we have the Ministry of Happiness. But also, other concepts and feelings such as ‘Love’, ‘Peace’, ‘Hope’, ‘Joy’ and maybe, looking at different languages as well. I don’t want to give everything away at the time being, but I think I will definitely be looking at exploring the effect of soundwaves and different languages, and how that changes the images and the meanings behind it.

How did you portray the UAE’s Year of Tolerance message through your work?

In the Voice Note Art collection, I created an artwork that is entitled Year Of Tolerance, and in that I first captured the soundwaves of the phrase Year of Tolerance, and then hand drew the images to showcase all of the different religions and nationalities that make up the UAE, as well as the Year of Tolerance bridge – that is in Dubai – and showcased all of these elements to really represent what the Year of Tolerance means to me but also I think, what it means to the people of the UAE and the different nationalities of the people that live here.

Amrita Sethi

Courtesy of Amrita Sethi

How did you start the Voice Note Art Series?

Well, I actually started it a couple of years ago and just stumbled across it. I was looking for a unique birthday present for my husband and because I obviously love drawing and painting, I thought, well it’s more important to give something that comes from the heart. So, I decided to record the words ‘Happy Birthday’ and I drew the lines that make up the sound wave. When I drew these lines and I took a step back, I thought they looked a little like little Masai Men standing there. Because I’m from Kenya and I kind of saw that it looked like Kenyan art where they make these stick figures. I then started to customise, draw and edge out Masai men on each of those lines but then I thought, Masai don’t have anything to do with the meaning ‘Happy Birthday’. So then I thought, what a great way it would be for me to match the images to the meaning of the word. That’s how I came up with it really. When I did, I was obviously really excited (laughs). I realised that this was an endless possibility and that every word, every phrase, every idea has so many images to it. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words but actually what I’ve realised is that the word is actually worth a thousand pictures. I’m really looking forward to developing this idea even further.

Dubai has been your home for 12 years. How do you merge your cultural background of being born and raised in Kenya, being a British citizen and having Indian origins with traditions from the UAE?

I think I’m not the only person who doesn’t know whether to give the short answer or the long answer when someone asks you “Where are you from?”. I love exploring this idea in the UAE because whenever you ask one where they’re from in the UAE, you do tend to get this paused answer (laughs). I personally love that I’m exposed to these different cultures because as a result, you grow so much as a person. Also, you really get to understand what makes people tick and who they are from things like their cultural nuances and background. I think living side by side with people from different cultures really gives you that sensitivity.

Can you tell us more about your Global Collection?

The Global Collection, which is my other collection, is obviously a more vibrant and colourful celebration of this because I use colour and people to bring the concept of the Year of Tolerance to life. A lot of the pieces showcase when two cultures live side by side together, and not only do they create something unique but they create something truly beautiful and something so different and vibrant in itself.

Amrita Sethi

Mr. Arab Cool and Abhaya Pop | Courtesy of Amrita Sethi

How would you describe Dubai in three words?

I would say modern, energetic and layered.

What are your thoughts on the art scene in the Middle East?

I would say it’s like a curious teenager. It’s willing to learn, is ready to question, still has space to develop but has the energy and enthusiasm to explore and reach its potential.

Who are your favourite artists?

Well, I would rather just talk about my all-time favourite artist. He was the surrealist artist, which is known as the famous Salvador Dali and I get a lot of my inspiration from him – not just within my art but in my life as well. I love the way that he tried to challenge and disrupt the way that people see things.

What advice would you give young artists breaking into the industry?

I would say creating art is obviously the first step and without creating art, you’re obviously not an artist. Creating art is one thing, but obviously being able to talk about it and bring it to life so that it connects to others as much as it connects to you, is also very important. I would say take the time to really understand yourself, who you want to be as an artist and at the end of the day, if you don’t know and you don’t know how to express that and deliver that message to anybody else, nobody else will know and you won’t be able to take them along your journey.

Now, take a look at these 2019 design trends that will leave you ready to redecorate.

  • Words by Meeran Mekkaoui