Spray-painted across skyscrapers and streets throughout the United Arab Emirates, large-scale murals created by a Dubai-born street artist are popping up near some of the country’s most famed tourist attractions.
From Abu Dhabi to Dubai, Fathima Mohiuddin’s iconic work is capturing the attention of both residents in the country – and the international art scene.
Her art often takes months to compile; one – the latest in her bird-themed series – depicts a falcon in preparation for flight splashed across a multi-story building in Yas Island.
Another shows an inquisitive bird painted in the UAE’s national colors splashed peering out from a building in Downtown Dubai, with the Burj Khalifa soaring in the background.
The Indian-Canadian artist, and founder of The Domino – a platform that advocates for up-and-coming artists in Dubai and encourages spaces for public art – now has work depicted in 10 counties across the world with her signature style splashed across shipping containers, cars, walls and skate parks in some of the biggest global cities.
A globally-recognized artist
“I’ve been lucky to have painted in several countries; the UAE, Australia, Austria, Jordan, Oman, Mexico, Canada, the US, Ireland, and the UK,” she told Al Arabiya English.
Mohiuddin said she actually began using walls as a space for her art as a teenager.
“I actually started painting on my bedroom walls when I was 13! I was a rebellious teenager and didn’t really ask permission.”
“And over the years it’s gone from that to painting small pop up walls live at events to murals in restaurants to larger and larger walls.”
Her foray into street art began as a student, she said, when she began dabbling in large-scale murals.
“I’ve always worked in the arts, I did my degree in studio art and during that fell in love with drawing on a large scale,” she said. “I painted my first mural as an apprentice in Toronto almost 20 years ago while I was studying there and fell in love with the context of public space.”
“I loved how it changed the conversation around the value of art to society and made it more accessible and inclusive, less elite and in that somehow more relevant to everybody.”
After doing her masters in sociology in London, Mohiuddin returned to Dubai to write her my dissertation on art in public spaces.
“I really fell in love with that interaction. I came back to Dubai with a mission to bring some of that here and have curated a number of mural projects over the years through my company The Domino, and also became more confident about painting big walls myself along the way.”
The street artist said she wanted to turn the concrete walls across the country into an open-air museum that speaks to everyone in the multicultural city.
Inspiration behind the art
Mohiuddin said a lot of her work comes from “a curiosity about our place in the world.”
“How we interact with each other, how we interact with nature, how we make sense of our existential conundrums, of society, and of course art.”
“I think my style was born out of a huge mash up of visual languages I’ve grown up with: comic books, architecture, Indian textiles, Islamic art, mythology, graffiti. And other artists.”
“Just looking at art all the time, those on Instagram, keeps us exposed and inspired.”
Mohiuddin said there is a number of ways to get involved with painting murals.
“You’re either approached by clients or you are approaching them with proposals,” she explained. “There are also street art festivals all over the world you can apply for.”
“I’ve never had to be involved with permits directly myself, that comes from the building owner but doing the sketches, writing concepts, all of that is an important part of getting that buy in.”
Mohiuddin, who has about 10,000 followers on Instagram, began to get noticed for her work and was approached to display her work globally.
“I’ve never really counted!,” she said, when asked how many murals she has completed to date. “I’ve done indoor murals, a massive floor mural in a skate park, outdoor murals, shipping containers, a car, I’m not sure my archives are really complete.”
“I’m currently working on my biggest project to date on Yas Island. Earlier this year I painted a huge black and white mural there and this season I’m painting a colorful bird-themed mural over seven eight-storey buildings which will take me into early next year.”
Birds, she said, have been an important theme in Mohiuddin’s work over the past six years.
“So this, in a lot of ways, feels like a culmination of that journey in one huge project,” she explained. “The mural currently features five massive birds and there are six more to come.”
“It’s visible from Yas Drive and Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Highway.”
Breaking down gender stereotypes
As being both a female, and a Dubai-born street artist, Mohiuddin said she is often met with surprise when people ask what she does as a career.
“When I’m working on site and come down from my lift I’ve often had people say it’s awesome to see a woman up there doing this sort of work, especially in this part of the world,” she said. “I’m originally Indian, born and raised in Dubai, and in those communities it’s still new and fascinating.”
“When I travel to paint festivals, I do realize that the representation of women in street art, particularly women of color and from this part of the world is definitely still at early stages and a work in progress, so I’m quite proud that way to be pushing that forward however I can.”
“And because my style is not particularly feminine and I go by the name ‘fatspatrol,’ people are extra surprised to learn I’m a woman. I receive some interesting message on Instagram!”
For now, Mohiuddin is working on her large-scale bird project in 2022, but she has several more career projects in the works – including writing a book and to work on an art project in Canada.
For now, Mohiuddin has some words of wisdom for other artists looking to get into the street art scene.
“I always have to remind myself that I’m an artist first, I already have the drawing and painting skills, I’m just learning to work on a new scale and in a different medium.”
“That makes it less daunting. And it’s important, to me anyway, to always be developing those core artistic skills. I’m a drawer first and then an artist who paints buildings. And learning to scale up just takes a lot of practice and preparation like anything else.”