I will here discuss why I chose my subject of Migrating Seagulls, as well as that which influenced me, and the materials and methods that I used.
Since moving to Dubai during July 2018 I have been influenced by the atmosphere of the Arabic lifestyle and culture, the colours of the desert is very much to my liking of tonal values and using a limited palette.
I have a strong feeling that my interest to understand the past has something to do with my feeling of connection with the older parts of Dubai. I had the opportunity to view and life in the modern city rising around the older part and feeling a strong appreciation for the older ways of this culture and how different it was a mere 40 years ago. I think history, and the possibility of learning from the past, is very much a philosophical question I like to reflect upon in my work. I seek to understand our connectedness with the past and how we apply our learning to look beyond ourselves in the way we see and judge the world . My upbringing in South Africa was focussed on my own cultural history, being born in “apartheid”, and ignorant to African culture within my own country. As an adult my views enlarged about politics, religion and social and cultural matters. I appreciate the idea of using some of these old buildings as cultural museums and areas where locals and tourists can appreciate and enjoy the heritage.
My original plan for my final project drawing was to convey a moment of what I see and feel, living in a new culture. The migrating birds added a wonderful layer to my experience of the place I was trying to capture. During my research about the yearly seagull migrating, it was wonderful to link this with the history of this city and its close connections to fishing and pearl diving and the fact that the residents in this area yearly await the coming of the gulls and other waterbirds to the area…a symbolic change of season…for cooler weather. This culture was not many years ago mostly tribal and rural and living a beduin life style very harsh conditions. The discovery of oil and the subsequent economic diversification development by its leaders has a significant impact on the biodiversity of the country. I also contemplate if indeed as human beings we are also connected to seasons through nature and if this can this contribute to our sensitivity and caring? I recently came to read and learn about the German artist, Andrea Büttner, and see her very much as an artist who engaged with art history through a very thorough research process – something I would love to follow in my own art process. I love the idea of turning practice into theory, and vice versa. We live in a world with almost any information available to us- but how do we question and perceive the purpose of this information and knowledge?
The natural migration of the seagulls captured my mind whilst drawing and my thoughts were constantly challenged by the human migration over millennia. Could one see some of it as natural due to survival of the species… are we not still trying to survive and learning from the old patterns and “routes”, or are we destroying everything? I am very aware of a deep sense of hopelessness many people are living with, looking at all the threats around in their daily lives, but I believe that art can also help shape these narratives into a place where, to take the words of a young man I heard taking at Davos recently: ” if history teaches us anything, it is that things can be different”. I have tried to use a limited palette to portrait the old and worked with fast movements to help the viewer experience the flight of the gulls … as they came back, just as they have been doing since forever. It seems that gulls are seen as resilient creatures.
I see my use of a limited palette as part of the mood and impression the moment made on me. I used mixed media materials to draw with. I spend a view mornings at the Creek area, making quick studies. I read a big deal about the species and its migration patterns. The local newspapers and archives on the internet was of great value, as well as keen birders who published articles as well as good photos and video material I could be influenced by. I set out for myself that it would be great if I could achieve movement through my drawings. I do think bigger studies on good quality paper, such a Hannemuhle etching paper, would make for a better body of work, and combined with smaller studies in watercolour and graphite, that could compliment different nuances in the flight of these gulls. Whilst I came to the end of my drawing I also saw great potential in smaller water colour studies of the same theme.
The name of the work, The Gulls are back 2019, reflects on the migration which is ongoing, but also a specific time when they arrive and spend winter in Dubai Creek. I see this project as an ongoing study to develop my thoughts and incorporate the data that is available into a visual story. I plan to join a local conservation group as a volunteer and make contact with the science and conservation part of this project.
Above all this was an enjoyable project and I think my learning was stretched to take a subject and develop my own artistic language through it.