Shaping reality: Get to know artist Muna Al-Bader
Muna Al-Bader is an incredibly accomplished individual. In addition to being an entrepreneur, an IT engineer, and a business analyst, she’s a contemporary artist who has garnered international acclaim for her work.
Muna has had solo exhibitions at the 2019 Dan Danah Exhibition, 2019 Katara Dhow Festival, 2019 Dandanah, Qatar National Library, the Arab Youth Forum and the Youth Creative Art Center in her native Qatar. She’s also won prestigious awards like the 2020 Qatar Art Ambassador, ACWB, Spain, and the 2020 Qatar Art Ambassador UNESCO. Recently, she painted a graffiti mural at the University of Houston in Texas.
Film Daily was fortunate enough to sit down with Muna and discuss her creative process and influences, as well as her plans for the future. Here’s what she had to say:
What came first, your interest in tech or your interest in art?
I’m an IT engineer by profession and a passionate contemporary artist. They are becoming parallels in my life. Both art and technology define and continue to reshape the world we live in. Re-imaging what we know as real or as a solid ground pushes our opinions and understanding of nature to the limits. And with new inventions and experiments, both the mind and the body, the language and the world seems to be making room for a different sphere and a fresh set of rules. Governed by the new aesthetics, the virtual, the scientific and the logic that is beyond belief, technology in art challenges our perceptions and that is what creativity and science are all about.
The change of artworks’ nature along with the shift in the public interaction and the reshaping of the museums and exhibition spaces are making more room today than ever before for some of the most amazing examples of art and technology mix through digital art, kinetic pieces, and works that explore the internet and online existence. The sci-fi mysteries of various movies that were mind-blowing just a decade or so, today shape the face of our reality.
This part of the innovative computer-based face, the traditional paintings and sculpture cannot capture to its fullest and that is why the fresh materials, such as data, pixels, mathematical and engineer formulas are the tools a number of contemporary creatives reach for today.
How did you go about developing your tech skills when you were young?
When I was young, I used to see my father sitting in front of large computers with annoying noises for long hours extending until the end of the night, with cylinders and plastic boxes in his hands. I was curious so I opened these plastic boxes one time. Instead of scolding me for doing this, he started sitting with me and taking me to the office with him programming web pages.
After that I became acquainted with the world of the internet and began to read the educational trumpets. I began to buy books for myself until I was able to program the websites myself. I learned all I could about computers until I reached the university stage where I chose this specialization and obtained 3 University degrees.
Who are some of the artists that inspire you the most?
I am very inspired by Frida Kahlo as she was painting with her emotions. She was a strong woman whose unibrow and determined face are known around the world. Her surrealist artwork with bright bold colors reflects her Mexican heritage. I have to admit that I am not sure that I would have appreciated Frida Kahlo had she been a contemporary artist living in my community. She was such a force, a strong personality who fearlessly painted her emotions and feelings. I tend to view circumstances more privately and although my emotions and feelings drive me, I would not be painting my self portrait in different states of physical and psychological suffering.
Kahlo was a revolutionary. She was a political activist. Her paintings reflect her political and societal concerns. And Frida Kahlo’s art- well it was often quite shocking. In light of her circumstances there are many reasons that I have found studying her artwork fascinating. Kahlo painted her feelings. Pain and suffering. Anger. She suffered physically from her illness and accidents. Her relationship with her on again off again husband, Diego Rivera, and multiple miscarriages caused her mental anguish. Her work is like a diary and the emotions are clearly on the canvas. Frida Kahlo’s paintings were bold and just like her Mexican heritage reflect a warm color palette – deep red and bright gold paint colors offset her black hair and dark unibrow.
What are some of your favorite artistic mediums to work within?
I like to combine oil and ink as I am challenging myself in migrating these two mediums together as you are aware oil doesn’t mix with water. Also, I like to use spray paint while doing the graffiti murals.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your artistic career, and how did you overcome them?
One of the most difficult things I have gone through in art is maintaining success among the emergence of many talents. I have worked hard and tried to reach a high level in art so maintaining this thing and providing a higher level than the previous level is perhaps one of the biggest challenges that I now face. After completing my mural at the University of Houston I want to offer the largest art in the whole world, not just at the local level.
Do you face any particular difficulties as a woman in tech?
When I entered the field of technology in 2003, I faced a big problem, which is how I, as a woman, can open the computer and printer and start repairing them as well as moving from a work site to inside the gas and oil factories. I took this as a challenge and I learned that women are equal to men and that a woman can do whatever a man can do. I learned more in the field of technology by working with both hands and over the years I proved my worth and rose in the administrative positions until I became the director of public relations in the field of information technology.
What advice would you give to young women out there who also want to pursue art and tech?
Whoever wants to achieve her ambition and prove her worth for herself first and then for society must defy the difficulties and go through many challenges and compete with herself to overcome them. In the end, we combine all the knowledge and experiences that we possess. Technology is an art and art is nowadays overrun by the technological revolution.
What’s been the biggest success of your career so far?
My biggest success is my knowledge in the field of technology from zero to the top of the pyramid. I combined technical skills, programming and management, as well as in the field of art. I started doing art as a hobby and ended up with a conscious experience in the field using the latest technology in the world of marketing, technical techniques, and contemporary art schools.
How did you go about getting your art into exhibitions?
My first exhibition came by chance and with the support of the Ministry of Culture. I was in an official delegation representing young people in Egypt in 2007. When they learned that I painted, they asked me to bring my work and launch an exhibition on the sidelines of the Arab League of Nations Forum for Youth. I took my paintings with me and made the exhibition. This supported me greatly psychologically when I learned that my works were approved by people and they bought them. Then I participated in an exhibition with Sotheby’s Auction House and I won two prizes.
Can you tell us anything about any projects that you’re currently working on?
Currently, I focus on technical cooperation with international companies as a second step after achieving spread through art exhibitions. I am keen that my artwork becomes acquired by people of good taste.
What has been the most exciting advancement in tech that you’ve seen in your lifetime?
Burberry’s holographic catwalk show in Beijing.
What is an advancement that you hope the future brings?
I wish the time capsule could work and take us anywhere in the world in less than a split second.
Do you think that artists will ever be replaced by AI and computers, the way some other professions have been?
In fact, AI has begun to be used in drawing, but no matter how advanced technology is, it will not be able to replace the real artist. We are human beings who enjoy feeling and texture. The artist himself transforms his inner feeling into art and reality that reaches the hearts before the eyes so I cannot imagine that robots will take the place of artists in the future.
What are some of your biggest personal goals for the future?
One of my biggest ambitions in art is to build my own empire through art. I would love to have my paintings be recognized as done by Muna Al-Bader without my signature on the piece.
Can you talk us through your creative process when you’re getting started on a new project?
I start by sensing everything around me to start my feeling for art. I go to the sea and look at the blue of the sky and the sea and start pouring the blue color on my painting. After the color spreads and takes its time on the painting, I start to imagine the characters made by the spread of the blue color. Then I work on drawing the characters and drawing their inspiration from my memory. I leave the painting and come back to it after a time to see things I didn’t see before and continue in a lot of layers to create the harmonious gradient color of paper.
How did it feel to become UNESCO’s 2020 Qatar Art Ambassador?
Being chosen as the ambassador of Qatar in Resilience Talk for the Arab Gulf region made me feel very proud as UNESCO is a global organization that seeks to create peace through many categories, perhaps the most important of which is art. The choice was a great honor for me.
Do you have a five year plan?
My five year plan is to be recognized internationally as I believe I am representing women, Qatar, and beauty in art.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t making art?
When I’m not making art I enjoy playing tennis, kayaking, playing piano, and reading books.