In 1993, Khalid Al Banna graduated from Emirates University with a degree in Architectural Engineering. This background has encouraged him to consider form and space in his artwork and has enhanced his sense of mass and dimension. In 2002, he began an apprenticeship with the artist Yasir Al Duwaik, who inspired Al Banna to delve into the practice of etching and taught him the principles and techniques of that art form.
Incorporating etching into his art practice was the gateway to his Black and White series. The contrasts of black and white in these works helped him explore issues confronting his homeland and the eternal conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, hope and despair.
In 2003, he introduced collage into his art practice. His recent sculptural works – which use abstract, collaged forms – are metaphors for his transformation from a somewhat parochial to a more cosmopolitan individual. The traditional colourful fabrics he uses reflect the past but, at the same time, refer to the vibrancy and dynamism of culture in the modern UAE.
INTERVIEW WITH KHALID AL BANNA
What inspired you to become an artist?
I started drawing when I was a child. It started as a hobby, but then it evolved and deepened and became a necessity over time. I realized that art was more than talent – it’s also a labour of perpetual development, as well as refinement.
When you say you trained with etchings, does that mean you use this technique in all of your work?
I used this technique in my very first works, but I was not encouraged to go on with it, due to a lack of materials, the time it required, and, of course, the knowledge. Etching is a very difficult technique, if not the most difficult in my opinion, and it’s also one that is not common in the UAE.
What training did you receive that influenced your career?
I was trained in painting and sculpture, both of which are combined in my practice today. I would spend long hours at the Emirates Fine Art Society, in Sharjah, and learn from more experienced painters who had their studios there.
Who have been your mentors or teachers?
Yaser Al Duweik, the Jordanian pioneer of etching. I have also been greatly influenced by Abdul Raheem Slem, an Emirati artist.
What influences your work most? Politics / current events?
Both works are political. The Black and White series was influenced by the Middle East’s transformation in the last twenty years or so – from the Gulf wars to 9/11 to the more recent Arab Spring in the region. The paintings are a reflection of how I experienced these events and moments in history.
Semiconductor Man is a series of framed fabric collages that link to daily life, privacy, and culture. The rapid developments that the UAE has experienced in the 40 years from its establishment as a Union have been traumatic. We witnessed the disappearance and dissolution of customs that were inherent to our identity. Our daily life and needs went from being very simple to very complex. Everything changed. I wanted to create a work that celebrates daily life and our national heritage and identity. The use of rich, vibrant cloth reflects both daily life and celebration, emphasizing the necessity to remain aligned with a unique heritage that is being usurped by the global homogenization of societies and traditions.
Do you work simultaneously with both series of works (sculpture and b&w drawings)?
I really work with what I need to work with. I may use one or the other, or both, or perhaps something entirely different. I am eager to start a new series…
Do you feel it opens up more possibilities?
For sure. I’m not afraid to repeat myself, and I think that it has brought me experience and, to some extent, freedom. Doing something over and over again, until you understand through an extensive use of the technique what it is you are really trying to get to, is a form of self-discovery.
Do both of these bodies of work reflect personal experiences you have had, or are they more reflective of your perceptions of change in the UAE?
My works clearly reflect the personal experiences I have had on a micro level, but they also reflect the larger macroeconomic forces that have affected the UAE.
Do you view your work as giving a historical context to the fast changing UAE?
My work tries to close the gap between present and past, finding both synergy and also diversity.
Have you ever lived outside of the UAE?
Does your work make any reference to your own identity and any persona struggles you have experienced?
We cannot help but reference our own identity; however, we tend to see much better when we try to reflect on the lives and representations of others.