Artist Edition Interview with Mays Al Moosawi

12 Jun 2023

The Cultivist had the pleasure of conversing with Mays Al Moosawi (b. 1994 Muscat, Oman), the contributing artist for our latest Artist Edition.

Mays Al Moosawi
Mays Al Moosawi
Mays Al Moosawi, "A Reflection of Them and Not You"
Mays Al Moosawi, "A Reflection of Them and Not You"

Mays is a visual artist whose work spans painting, digital, and sculpture, represented by Emergeast Gallery. Her work has been featured most recently in a debut solo exhibition at Cromwell Place from 7-11 June, and previously in exhibitions around the Arabian Peninsula and wider region - including Oman, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The latest development in Mays' artistic career has been returning to London for the An Effort Art Residency program and an MFA at Chelsea College of Arts.

Gideon Fortune: How has your work developed since you moved to London?

Mays Al Moosawi: The vibe of my work really comes from what's inside me. When I'm painting in London, my figures have this free-flowing energy. You can see the movement in my art—it's alive! But back home in Muscat, I tend to paint women in a more restrained way. They're often sitting or standing still. Oh, and the colours, they've definitely changed too. In Oman, whether I'm by the beach or up in the mountains, the sun always shines so brightly. That inspired me to use more earthy, brown tones in my art. But in London, well, the weather brings a whole different vibe, and that has influenced the colours I use in my paintings.

Gideon: Okay, I was definitely gonna ask about the colours because sometimes I see regular shades that people would be and other times…

Mays: Green and blue?

Gideon: Yeah, but I haven't thought about the correlation of the colours to the positions that they're in.

Mays: The heart and soul of my artwork are intricately tied to my inner world. When I'm feeling blue, those emotions seep into my creations without me even realizing it. It's like an invisible thread that connects my feelings to the figures I paint.

Gideon: I think that is a good answer. Can we talk a bit about your recent show and current residency? Your debut solo show is a huge deal.

Mays: It was my first solo show in London at Cromwell Place, which took place this month. An Effort Art Residency and Emergeast have been supporting me through the process of showing such a large body of work.

Gideon: Okay, speaking of bodies, I have a question about objects. In one painting, there was a vase that almost had hands and feet, so I was wondering if that is just you being able to do what you want or if it’s purposeful.

Mays: The beauty of creative expression and art is that there are no rules. I get a lot of feedback regarding the women as they’re not “perfect”; you know, some may have four fingers. But I believe there’s perfection in imperfection. I wanted to challenge people’s ideas of normal everyday objects around us and apply some humour to objects our eyes have become accustomed to, it’s a way of saying you can do and be whatever you want, and that’s still okay!

Gideon:  I will say, relating to your thing about Moving from Oman to London, not the same at all, but I used to live in the South of the USA, in Louisiana, a state called Louisiana where it is more hot and sunny it rains a lot, too with no skyscrapers, and even my skin colour changed because I don't even get any sun. But how do you like it in London? You obviously haven't been living there for a long time.

Mays: I absolutely love it! I was living in London from 2013 to 2017 as I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Coventry. I then moved back to Muscat and stayed there until 2022.

Gideon: Can we talk about the people behind your figures?

Mays: Being an Arab female, my upbringing revolved around the presence of strong women: my mother, grandmother, and aunts. Their stories, beliefs, and vulnerabilities had a profound impact on my growth and development. Their influence shaped my thoughts and moulded the person I am today. In my artistic journey, I strive to acknowledge and communicate the beliefs and ideas that have shaped me. It's a continuous effort to bridge the gap between the person I used to be, "Mays" from the past and the person I am currently evolving into.

Gideon: Usually, people who make art with subjects, not in the canon of art history, there’s a notion of elevating the depicted subjects. Do you think about this idea of elevation at all or just making representations of who you know?

Mays: People often jump to the conclusion that my art aims to confront societal taboos surrounding women and nudity in the region. However, the truth is that my work is more of an introspective journey, delving into my personal identity shaped by my life experiences thus far. By shedding societal expectations and norms, I begin exploring the essence of our true selves through my characters. Questions arise: Who are we when external pressures are stripped away? Where do we find our sense of belonging? And with whom? It's a complex subject, but one that I feel compelled to delve into in the hopes of inspiring others to embark on their own introspective journeys.

Gideon: Are you painting specific people or even yourself, or is every figure a bit of yourself because of that layer of self-reflection?

Mays: In many ways, the women I paint come from or are my memories. Generally, my work explores the connection between the women of my upbringing and myself. Hearing their stories, beliefs and insecurities when growing up, impacted and still impacts my personal journey–starting as a little girl but also still nowadays. While painting, I aim to dig deeper into my emotions, explore my inner thoughts and express my authentic self.

Gideon: Who are the artists you draw inspiration from?

Mays: Matisse and Picasso.

Gideon: Can you talk about your sculpture practice?

Mays: The sculptures feel like my paintings but in 3D. I think it is important for an artist to have more than one medium. Personally, I also cannot imagine myself doing the same thing over and over. It is important to diversify, take a break and try out new things. With sculpture, I quite enjoy seeing how my figures come to life – I see them as whole. But in terms of the artistic process, for me, there is not such a big difference between the two.

Gideon: Do you try to depict figures from specific paintings?

Mays: I don’t like to plan my work too much. I start the canvas and it takes me where I should go. Otherwise, it takes the fun away.

Gideon: What about Art in Oman? How is the art scene over there faring?

Mays: The art scene in Oman is definitely progressing. After COVID, there have been increased activities and is quite a focus on public art initiatives which I think is an amazing initiative to draw the public’s drive and curiosity towards different artists and concepts. It is just the beginning for the Omani art scene, with a lot of scope for much more.

Gideon: It’s a very different world, huh?

Mays: Of course, it is different; we are all characterized by where we come from and the influences each of our respective countries’ cultural and traditional landscapes offer.

Gideon: What’s the most popular medium there?

Mays: Photography at the moment, and graphic design/digital art.

Gideon: What is the best place you’ve presented your work or the best show you’ve ever been in?

Mays: Definitely first solo show in London at Cromwell Place.

Gideon: In the artwork I sent you (second picture at the top of the page), the figure stands out like they usually do in your work, but the contrast here is interesting because I look at the plain back wall and chair compared to the intricately depicted lace table cover, and I find the colours and textures fascinating.

Mays: Lace carries a sense of nostalgia and memories, something I initially thought was specific to Arab culture. However, I've come to realize that lace resonates with grandmothers from various backgrounds and cultures. It seems to have woven its way into the lives of grandmothers universally, becoming a cherished part of their heritage. There's something beautiful and timeless about lace that connects generations and preserves cherished memories.

Gideon: Yes, Im Haitian and that resonates with me and many others, I’m sure.

Mays: The title of this artwork is ‘"A reflection of them, not you," which conveys the idea that people's judgments and opinions are often influenced by their own perspectives, biases, and preconceived notions, rather than an accurate understanding of who you truly are as an individual.

Gideon: Yes, I tell my little brother all the time that the things he thinks about himself are derived from the opinions of others.

To see Mays’s available work, visit her page on Emergeast's website here. Be sure to keep an eye on her work moving forward, as she's certain to have continued success in whatever medium she feels compelled to explore.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a great quote from the artist: "Creating art doesn’t always mean you’re trying to fight a battle or prove something to the world, it could simply be a way for the artist to tell their unspoken story and express their hidden emotions to help others realize they’re not alone."

-- Words by Gideon Fortune