Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 2nd October 2015

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Endless Flow: A disabled artist’s journey

Mudawi-Rowlings’ creations include silk screen prints, lamp shades, cushion covers, scarves, cards and book marks, all characterised by elegance and a tasteful mixture of colours.

Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings with work produced at the MIA.

Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings with work produced at the MIA.

London - Sudan-born textile artist Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings stood in utter fascination at London’s Arab-British Centre as she screened her works at the exhibition, Endless Flow, which she described as a landmark in her creative journey.

“It is my journey with art,” she said. “It is about who I am. It has been fascinating for me to see all my work together in one room at one time.

“When I put up the first works and the latest ones I could see in one go how I have developed.”

Mudawi-Rowlings’ creations include silk screen prints, lamp shades, cushion covers, scarves, cards and book marks, all characterised by elegance and dignity and a tasteful mixture of colours expertly blended into imaginative designs fusing Eastern and Western influences into new and unique forms.

The deaf artist identified four main stages on her artistic journey, namely “the symbolic shell, the love of life, etching and ilham (inspiration)”.

Identity is a central theme that runs unobtrusively through her work.

“Being deaf, being a woman, being in Britain and being Arab, all of these are part of who I am and they all have an influence,” she said.

“The Arabic influence is strongly related to the geometry and shapes I have been using lately. It is the language I use in my work but there are overlaps and you will see a mixture of Eastern and Western influences. I use sign language, I use English and I use Arabic every single day. Like that of most artists my journey is complicated and influenced by all sorts of things.”

The symbolic shell, Mudawi-Rowlings’ logo, began by exploring the invisible inner ear, juxtaposed with the ear’s external visible shape, which began to take the form of an intricate shell pattern.

Love the Life are works inspired by a poem Mudawi-Rowlings wrote. They are multi-layered creations that reflect her multiple identities. The works take the ideas that are presented with different coloured foregrounds and backgrounds to create a see-through effect. Sometimes the background is clear; sometimes it is obscured by the overlaying design.

In the “etchings” stage, intricate designs rather than colour come to the fore. Exploring themes from the past in new or innovative ways describes how Mudawi-Rowlings’ work is constantly evolving and developing, hence the name of the exhibition, Endless Flow.

She said a residency at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha earlier in 2015 was a life-changing experience – the fourth stage on Mudawi-Rowlings’ journey. For the first time the MIA was working with disabled artists. Through the Ilham initiative the British Council recommended Mudawi-Rowlings for the programme.

“There are 80,000 objects on display at the MIA and we were asked to choose three pieces as reference points in the creation of our new artworks. I found it really hard to choose only three but in the end I incorporated some elements that touched me emotionally,” she explained.

“The second surge of inspiration came from the geometric pattern seen on the doors of the MIA and throughout Qatar. Through this design I could feel the connection to ancient history. This gave me the idea to incorporate devoré printing into my work – a form of printing that quickly adds lace-type effects – to depth and layers.”

She said her initial inspiration came while overlooking the city from the fountains at the MIA. “I felt some words come to me – ‘freedom’ and ‘to be’.

“I signed these words in the form of short poems to my interpreter, who translated them into English and they were then translated into Arabic. Next, I worked with a professional calligrapher to develop the concept, before dyeing ten pieces of fabric – a combination of silk and velvet – in preparation for screen printing.”

Mudawi-Rowlings said she found the residency challenging because it usually takes her four weeks to create a work of art from an idea. At the residency, she only had two weeks. “It was the best work I ever produced,” she said. “It was on a grand scale. I would never have produced anything of that size.”

The programme for disabled artists concluded with an exhibition of their work. Mudawi-Rowlings also participated in a conference Definitely Able, which focused on provisions for disabled people in Qatar and helped in the making of a film Voice, which drew attention to the needs of disabled people.

In 2013, Mudawi-Rowlings won a Cockpit Arts bursary award that enabled her to set up a textile business she called Omeima Arts.

“Everything I make is influenced by a fascination with traditional handmade printing techniques,” she emphasised. Her cushions, lampshades, cards and scarves are works of art that have a function.

“I think being a deaf person has enabled me to be quite visual and to use my hands in a creative way. I don’t chat to people in the same way a hearing person does. I can express my ideas through art and that does not need verbal communication.”

Mudawi-Rowlings, who has lived in the United Kingdom for 35 years, has a bachelor of arts degree in textile design from the Surrey Institute of Art & Design. In 2014, she was shortlisted for the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary award for disabled artists.