I was delighted to be featured in Abu Dhabi Week - with a terrific article written by the lovely Rachael Perrett. Extracts from the interview below:
Artist. Runner. Tea drinker.
That’s how Julia Ibbini describes herself on her website. It’s an interesting combination, but after sitting down with her – “Wait, let me just get my tea,” she begins – I realise there’s much more to the Jordanian-British artist than that.
“It came from mum and dad,” Julia confesses. “Tea in the morning, tea in the afternoon, all the time.”
Julia has spent her whole life in Abu Dhabi, bar a few years at university in the UK. The mother-of-one admits she’s always been the artsy one in the family since she was “tiny”, but like most people, figured art wasn’t a full-time career. After studying marketing and communications and working in the corporate world for a few years, Julia eventually realised the art she was doing “on the side” was more than a hobby.
But Julia didn’t realise how much her professional experience would help her in establishing a career in the art world.
“It’s one thing being an artist and making the work, being creative, but you have to have that skill set and I was very lucky to have that experience,” Julia explains. “How do I brand myself, how do I build a story – because it’s very important to talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing the work. I think you only know how to do that if you come from a marketing background and realise how important it is to be able to connect with people who are buying your work.”It’s something Julia says many artists avoid and need more experience with in order to help sell their work.
“For a lot of other artists, self-promotion is an area of difficulty. I think artists shy away from that; they think it’s not in line with being an artist. Yes, you love making art and have very deep-seated reasons for doing it but you need to promote yourself.” While Julia is evidently good at promoting herself – she’s arguably regarded as one of the leading artists in the community and her name is instantly recognisable with those in the know – she is also helping others receive exposure with an artist-led collective she started with fellow artist Emily Gordon.
No White Walls is an annual exhibition that features anywhere between four and ten local artists at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.
“We felt strongly, and we still do, that it was important to give artists the opportunity to engage directly with people who are interested in art and their own work,” she explains. “It’s too often that you end up exhibiting, but you don’t see the people that are coming in, you don’t get to engage with them. Emily and I wanted something where the artists are building this exhibition as a group, together, and we all get the opportunity to deal directly with the people that are coming in.
When it comes to building a community, Julia says she’d love to see more opportunities for artists to learn skills such as marketing, financing, pricing and how to present their work as well as spaces for artists to work and meet each other. “I think there are probably quite a few who even I’m not aware of here on the ground, struggling to find a way to show their work and engage with other artists. “The scene has been building in terms of people in the city who are interested in viewing and collecting art. And that’s another reason for No White Walls because, yes, there is a big population of people who want to see the local art scene, but there’s not necessarily an outlet to see it.”
Fans of Julia’s work can see her collections at her home studio, which is brimming with colourful canvases and equipment. Her style is difficult to define, but she describes it as a combination of drawings on the computer, archival prints, painting and accents like crystals and pins.
It’s certainly a unique style, which isn’t surprising given her creative method. “I have different starting points for various collections,” Julia explains. “I tend to maintain some sort of a journal but I don’t draw, I write. I might write down random ideas, things that have happened and influenced me, and then it leads into the beginning of a piece. Like pouring emotions onto a canvas, her work acts as a creative outlet.
“It’s like I’ve got something that needs to be said, except although I start with a written word, the end result needs to be very visual as to what I’m saying. A lot of it has a personal starting point and morphs into a bigger idea.”
Following her own advice, Julia enjoys engaging with people who come to view her work. “I like to talk to people to see what was their view point. I try to attach some sort of write-up to every body of work so when they’re in a gallery they can see what it was that made me create these pieces. But then they draw their own meaning from it and it’s again coming from their own personal viewpoints.
While her work acts as inspiration for others, it’s what Julia does in her spare time that inspires the artist herself.
When her seven-year-old daughter was born, Julia needed to get out of the house so began running. It soon turned into marathons and then ultramarathons, and now Julia finds herself scaling mountains, running up to 100km off road. “You need that space and however you find it – yoga or whatever you need to do – you need that space in order to come back with a fresh eye and create new work. “It’s an interesting thing to do when you put your body though something like that. Obviously you’re physically prepared, you don’t go and do 100km without any training, but you put yourself through it and you come out of something like that feeling like a different person – that you’ve been right to the very bare bones of what you can experience, you’ve felt the worst you could possibly feel, and you come out a different person. I’m hopefully that person.”
Whatever kind of person Julia is – an inspirational artist, a long-distance fitness buff, a passionate tea drinker – she’s certainly helping pave the way for future artists in the community, and we’re sure there’s more to come.