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Kuwait has potential to enter a wonderful period of innovation Telling one’s story a way to escape loneliness

ART is a passion, it’s a way of life, it’s the lenses through which you see things you haven’t really seen before, it translates emotions, it has the ability to light up the night and darken the light, it is what makes us humans, our world is art,  and ultimately ……… it can build civilizations. Every single human being is an artist in one way or another, it’s just a question of whether you want to peruse it, nurture it, and make a difference through it. These words might seem cheesy to a lot of people, but to passionate artists like Mohammed Al-Marzougi, a 24-year-old Kuwaiti, it’s their way of life, as you hear the passion radiate through their words.

Attending the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he received a bachelors degree in illustration, and is now continuing his journey at the School of Visual Arts in New York city, studying in the Illustration as Visual Essay Masters program.


Question: Tell us something about yourself...
Answer: I was born in Kuwait in 1990, and before the Gulf War had began we were living in Mauritania, since my father was a diplomat and was stationed there.  From Mauritania we moved to Rome, then to London, and finally to North Virginia in the US.
My mother, father, sister, and I lived in each place for about four-five years.
I think those years where very important in establishing my worldview; I believe that people are a combination of their own unique unwavering personalities and experiences in life; I suppose you could say we are made up of innocence and experience.
For me, living in those countries complimented my ability to adapt well, and instilled me with a sense of how we live in this world, afterwards I moved to Kuwait, where I attended high school, those four years where kind of rough for me, as they are for most teenagers, as I felt stuck, like I wasn’t sure what exactly was to come, what I was sure of however, was that I’d take all the art classes I could.


Drawing and making up stories had always been a constant in my life; it was something that was my only real safe haven during my life in all those different places, and a way I would make friends.
After high school I went to the University of Arts in Philadelphia, where I was accepted to attend in the Illustration department. University was an immense deal for me, as it brought me in contact with myself, I mean that in the sense that my confusion bloomed into questioning, and by looking within myself I could seek to directly answer these questions. My art transformed at this point, and became from an almost subconscious form of expression, to a tool of exploration, a means to use the language of the unconscious mind to derive some sort of explanation.
This is the path I have been set on ever since. I would say that my main form of expression is through sequential storytelling. Comics, or Graphic Novels, as is currently deemed the more respectable term for the medium. Now, my chain of development has taken me to New York City where I attend the School of Visual Arts.


Q: What about the reason you were drawn to art, and what kept you going down this road to this day, inspirations, influences and such? 
A: I would say that as a child I was very drawn to animation and comic books. Anything I could get my hands on really. This came very early on in the form of 70’s Japanese animation with Arabic dubbing like “Tiger Mask”.
Most Arabs will likely recognize “Captain Majid” Which was an Arabic language dub of a very popular animated Japanese show called “Captain Tsubasa”. The popular show and comic “Dragon Ball” was also a major influence on me.
I remember being in grade school while living in London, and another student bringing in these art books of scenes and characters from the various episodes and movies of “Dragon Ball”. It was an elated feeling, truly something that kids feel so acutely at those early ages, I felt like I was seeing images of this other world where everyone was fighting so hard against these crazy monsters, but loving every minute of it and it all felt pervaded by this great sense of humor.


Those things opened up my tastes to other Japanese animation and comics, which I was very keen of until highschool, where my tastes broadened even more.
Those shows really fueled my desire to tell stories, I started imitating the themes and styles of those shows, but high school was when I began to see the signs of something emerge from within me through things I was drawing, and the stories I was creating. I specifically remember something that happened in my Chemistry class during junior year of high school.
I was sitting there half paying attention, and very suddenly these ideas began to flood my mind, describing this other world, it’s cosmology, how it came to be created, it’s something I’ve still been working on to this day.


I think that for a lot of artists, specifically ones that tell and depict their own stories, we do it as a means to escape our loneliness. I grew up in a household of conflict, always worried that my parents would erupt into a serious argument, this instilled a sense of anxiety in me that I still struggle with.
Telling and drawing stories was a way for me to escape that, which goes back to why we believe the earliest people told stories, as a way to comfort each other from the darkness of the untamed world. It was something that the shamans took upon themselves to tell the society.
It also also served a spiritual function to address our humanity. Today people put so much emphasis on their religion, their culture, their race, but forget that these things lack any effect if not in the context of our humanity; this is something we all share.
I went through a transformation if you may, I went from creating out of a means to embrace the immense love I felt from these works that enriched me, and as a means to ward off my fear and loneliness, which now has transformed into a tool for me to explore and understand my own humanity.
Everyone will consider themselves human, but I believe that to be able to call yourself human which is a true honor, is something we must achieve, and unfortunately most of us are more animal/machines than human beings.


You would say that you have always had this artistic view of life? and that you managed to fuel this talent with everything life threw at you?
I think that my artistic view on life was something that was very instinctive at a young age. It was more of a raw lens for my navigation of the world.
As I got older, around high school age, I began to get proficient at analyzing, and with this comes a new way of taking in the world. I think analysis and experience are often in conflict of each other, and then the work becomes to balance the two channels and return to the primary with all you’ve learned from the secondary.
Sorry if that sounds a bit long winded, but art for me is a way to access the raw world of idea, idea’s about self, the universe, family, identity, all those things.
After all, everything in the human world is composed of ideas, our nations, cultures, religions, politics, it’s all ideas.


Q: What about your parents, are they supportive in terms of your academic choice? Was there any parental influence when it came to your talent?
A: I guess my parent’s conflict was a lesson in pain, it got me used to a climate of spontaneous pain, anxiety, and fear. It’s something that I am now trying to transition myself out of.
There’s this thing I heard somewhere that, one of the challenges of truly becoming human, is to separate yourself from the traumas of youth and grow into your unique individual self.
I don’t think that means to forget or ignore those things, but to become bigger than them, to embrace trauma like you would a child. Which, from my experience, is how I can liken the experience of growing up in a house like that, growing up with moody emotional children, who are not used to their big people bodies.
If anything, it forced me to grow up faster than I should have and parent them in a sense. I think the experience is what led me to develop a big picture mentality, but also may have contributed to myself being overly critical at times, and generalizing, trying to simplify something to make it tangible.
It’s kind of difficult to explain, but this way of thinking about things is 50% of the art. An artist can make beautiful, and  technically spectacular works, there are many very successful illustrators who do just that.
My mother has always been supportive of my art, although I think in the beginning my parents wanted me to enter something more financially certain. I remember her encouraging me to frame and sign my work, but I just wanted to draw and keep drawing. She convinced me a couple of times, and I have some old framed pieces, which I’m glad I do.
My Father on the other hand, had his own issues, he would shift from praising my work, to telling me I’d never make it for whatever reasons, essentially making it difficult for me


Q: It’s almost an international belief that the field of art is not very profitable, and sometimes artists can go for months with no pay, where do you stand in regard to this?
A: Something I’ve realized in grad school is that even if you get into whatever industry you seek, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be successful in it. I think it all depends on self generation and what drives someone, as we’ve discussed earlier.
I guess if I could distill it, some people get work right away and build on that, either staying still or progressing, and some people take their time to develop their work and enter the arena with something they’re confident with.
It totally depends on the person, whatever it is he\she decides to do, it will be challenging and hard to do, there is no certainty of anything.
Regarding my father’s stance on the matter, it’s mostly because of this cultural fear in my opinion. It’s the fear of undertaking something that does not spell certain success that has stalled the Arab world to such a level that there’s this over saturation of young people in school studying things like engineering or medicine.
We don’t have a striving culture like we had once upon a time, during the Golden Age of Islam around the 1200’s. It’s funny how people talk about that point in history fondly, but fail to realize how we’ve crippled our ability to innovate once again, with all the fear that our culture has amassed.
Though, I do get this feeling that there are young people, specifically in the Gulf who are starting to develop some really interesting things, and I think it’s definitely from that outside influence of American and Asian culture, mixed with our own cultural lens. That’s how things get innovated after all, we’re all inspiring each other.


Q:
A lot of Arab people believe that the “Golden Age of Islam” with its knowledge and innovation, from art to science, is basically what created the West that we know today, do you share the same belief?
A: I think that the Golden Age innovated a lot of things that benefited and advanced the world overall, but I tend to feel it’s a group effort. Without what China was innovating at the time, we wouldn’t have paper, which was brought to the Middle East and eventually to Europe.
Also, the most successful trait of any period in a culture is open mindedness. It almost sounds like a cliché, but when Islam was first formed, it was a really radical and optimistic message in a harsh, almost nightmarish climate. It offered women some really progressive opportunities, and had this unifying message, that complimented the Abrahamic teachings active in other parts of the region.
The Golden Age wasn’t just about Islam, but it was about a new way to view information and unify, to simplify, it went something like this..........Okay all this Greek creations? Yeah let’s translate it and figure out if there’s anything to it. What about all these Jews the Europeans hate so much? Bring them aboard and see what they can bring to the table.  Iranians? Yeah those guys are great, their poets and artists are fantastic, bring them too...... and so on, until the grandest era was born.


Q: Some people might look at art as something with no real meaning, they might even consider it useless, what’s your opinion on this matter?
A: Art has always been that kid that’s bullied in school, so you’re always going to come across people that might think so, not just nowadays, but even during ancient times.
Plato, a philosopher, as well as mathematician, in Classical Greece, and an influential figure in philosophy, spoke about how artists aren’t worth anything, but he praised poets, and said that they were the medium between the heavens and mankind.
During his time, an artist would have been a craftsman, someone who made the statues and vases. He felt like that was empty compared to what people could learn from poets, who were more storytellers than anything else in Ancient Greece.
Q: Which fields of art are you now more focused on? Why this field in particular? did you venture into the rest of the arts? Like abstract for instance?
A: I would say that I’m primarily focused on sequential art, or comics. Storytelling is just as important, and nothing quite gives you the totality of vision and control with a work like comics do. I’m very excited for what’s to come for the medium as it’s experiencing a maturity with the establishment of graphic novels in libraries, and popular movies and TV shows being adapted. I’ve done stand alone illustrations before, and have enjoyed them, but I feel a significant difference in my focus, attention, and passions when working on comics.
Q: What do you plan on doing after your studies? What is it you want to achieve by using this talent and passion of yours?
A: After my studies I would like to be at a point where I have the mental endurance and ability to take on my own comic series. I have something in mind, and would like to push my abilities as a storyteller and an artist to create the best work that I can.


Q: Is there a certain message, idea or vision you would want to deliver through your work?
A: I’d say that the message or vision I want to communicate is something that would be compact. Stories are very much like tapestries and the quality of a story and the ideas that they carry define the pattern. I want to reveal a world different than ours, but similar enough that it gives the reader clarity over their lives and the world they live in by comparison. I want to do this through the journey of the characters and the overarching design that is being revealed to the readers.
I think distilling what I want to achieve down to a single message is a hard thing for me to do.  The themes are the only things I can certainly identify, and those are the nature of light and dark in people, exploring the paradox of being both, and what is the state of surpassing or mastering our duality, if there is one. What is beyond good and evil.
What is our true nature, or what is the true self made of. These things are especially important to me, since I believe that the “individual is a microcosm of the universe”. In that sense,”to know ourselves is to know God.” I would say these statements are the closest I can get to a message for now.


Q: As an artist yourself, what do you think of the “art scene” here in Kuwait?
A: I don’t have much knowledge of the art scene in Kuwait, besides having participated in a group exhibition while I was in the country between undergrad and grad school. I do get this feeling though that there are a bunch of young people like me who have been gathering all these disparate influences and are ready to start making some very interesting things.
 This game for example, “Octopus City Blues”, which got successfully funded by a Kickstarter campaign. The creator of the project is living in Kuwait, and his team is international. There’s something interesting in the air, and especially now that I heard from my cousin that Kuwait is starting to adamantly fund the arts. It’s very exciting because whatever will come from our region will be a next step in a fusion of influences from the west and east, married with our own culture. It feels very new.
Oscar Wilde  quoted “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”
 

Q: That being said, what is your view of the world in general as we know it today, and in a smaller frame, what do you think of Kuwait today?
A: Oh wow, that is an interesting quote. Thanks for sharing it with me. I think that the world today is a really great place and time to be alive. We’re reaching this transition into a full immersion with media in a way we’ve never experienced before.
 There was a book which i can’t remember the title of, that tracked the activity of human violence throughout our history on this planet, and found that there’s this gradual decline of it as time goes on. There’s specifically a drastic decline of it after the invention of the printing press.
 So the existence of novels, texts about science and philosophy, treaties, these things are saving the world. In a sense if we increase our understanding and intake of art and science, our empathy and compassion increases.


 There are still bad things happening in the world, without a doubt, but compared to a thousand years ago even, things have gotten much better. Especially considering that on a macro scale, we’ve been here for like a month relative to the planet and solar system.
 So I’m an optimist, although I tend to sometimes get caught up on negative parts of history, overall I try to see things from a big picture perspective, in my own life as well as when thinking about the world, trying to see how all the moving parts are interacting.
I think what art can do for people in the world today, is fulfill our need to understand the components of our minds, how the conscious relates to the unconscious, the dark to the light, and how these things affect every aspect of our reality.

Regarding Kuwait, it is currently a very interesting place, it seems like we’ve got young people who are excited about making things, and Kuwait’s presence this year in the Venice Biennial seems very interesting, the government is becoming more active in supporting culture and the arts.
Kuwait is really a new frontier for these things, where Europe and the US have really become quite calcified and derivative, it’s hard to find things that are new and exciting. This leads me to believe that Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf really has the potential to enter a wonderful period of innovation and productivity.

Q: When it comes to art, what keeps you going? what fuels this pursuit?
A: I’m not sure if I can pinpoint what exactly keeps me going. What I know for sure, is that when I don’t create things, I feel dimmer, and ultimately depressed.
It’s a way for me to feel engaged with life in a vital way. It’s also a way for me to explore my life and my self from the inside.
 After taking in so many different things over the years, and accumulating so many influences, I’ve become quite particular with my tastes.

biography

* Born in Kuwait, Jan 9, 1990.
* My father was a diplomat so we were stationed in different countries growing up. Mauritania was the first country he was posted to, and during our stay there the Gulf War was going on in Kuwait. After Mauritania, we lived in Rome, London, and finally in the US (North Virginia), before I came back to Kuwait for high school.
* Attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and lived there for four years, where I received a Bachelors degree in Illustration.
* Got accepted to attend the School of Visual Arts in New York City, studying Illustration in the Visual Essay Masters program, currently working on a comic adapting a scene from Hamlet.
* Joined numerous art galleries as a participant, mostly outside Kuwait.

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb
Arab Times Staff


By: Mohammed Al-Marzougi

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