Summer 2013 | ArteZine

Interview with Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton, Associate Professor of Art and Design at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE


Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton constructs complicated landscapes which are comprised of a multitude of images from photographs taken throughout the United Arab Emirates – from Abu Dhabi to Ras al-Khaimah; Dubai and Sharjah to Umm al-Qaiwain and all the points in between.

His landscapes describe the desert, the Gulf and the changing face of the towns and cities that are home to Emiratis and also to many who come from outside the region.  Ayyub’s method of using complicated layering of image and text, religious architecture, and the insertion of himself as a traveler across the ever changing landscape of the Emirates, as seen in the detail of Footsteps, forces the viewer to observe the complexity of the land and the impact of the people who inhabit it. The shadow of the mosque on the high rise buildings of Metropolite 1, illuminates the presence of religious identity which is the foundation of his life and his work.

Ayyub’s exhibition history is extensive.  His work has been included in numerous creative shows and exhibitions and is in a number of different collections in the U.S.A. and in the United Arab Emirates.  But his artistic output is not limited to visual art.  He has also written and illustrated a children’s book, The Story of Musa (Abu Dhabi: House of Sunnah, 2006), which is housed in the Library Collection of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Arizona, as well as in The Islamic Center of Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A. and in other sites.

Interview with Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton:

What do you think of the relationship between art and traditional culture in the Emirates?  Is there a place for both?  What are the drawbacks if any?

I believe that it is difficult to separate ‘culture’ from artistic expression; creating art is an extension of who we are, and thus our cultural identity is intrinsically tied to what we create.  Which means ‘culture’ in the emirates (and other Muslim countries) is in actuality – an Islamic identity.

Can you describe the method you use to create your images?

I use a photomontage approach in creating my works, there are well over 200 separate photographic and print images, hand written text and a variety of other techniques used to create the final work.

You use the image of a mosque shadowed on the high rise buildings in some of your work.  Can you explain what your thoughts are in regards to this? What are your concerns and how do you see these issues?

These reflective images show that although the surface of our ever-growing cities are an expression of economic and industrial growth, there is an underlying core which is in the shadows; and ever present in the people:  a religious identity.

How long have you lived in the UAE?  

I have lived here in Abu Dhabi for seven years… and the Emirates is my home.

What influences your work?  How does this influence your work with students if at all?

What influences my work? My life as a Muslim…  Being a Muslim and honestly implementing its tenets is not a weekend activity… It is truly a manner of life, or as some may say, ‘a way of life’.
Thus, this way of life influences my choices and my aesthetics and is at the core of my conceptual process.
As for my students, I always remind them to reflect on who they are and what they are doing, and are there choices in ‘alignment’ with who they are as Muslimah’s, women, Emiratis, and as human beings.

What do you think are the three most important issues in regards to the development of art in the UAE and in Abu Dhabi in particular?

I think that one of the most important areas or issues in regards to the development of art in the UAE, is that of education… art education.
The gap between the common person and the ‘art arena’ needs to be bridged, so that there is a new found ‘ownership’ and understanding of the arts and the great importance art plays in social/cultural/religious identity.

How do your students influence the development of your own art practice?

Teaching has always been a great place to share and exchange ideas.  In teaching and discussing art with students, I am exposed to new and different ways of expression and of seeing, and this directly influences me as a visual communicator.

Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton, Footsteps of Bukhari (detail) 2008, Photo-Montage, 8ftx29in, Courtesy of the Artist
Giant cranes are ready to be put to work in an area that looks like the patch between Dubai and Abu Dhabi – though this could actually be almost anywhere in the Emirates now. The signpost by the road cutting through the sand shows a figure walking as if crossing.

Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton, Metropolite (detail) 2008, Photo-Montage, 8ftx29in, Courtesy of the Artist
The minarets and dome of the mosque are shadowed against the jumble of the high rise office and residential buildings nearby.  The mosque reminds us of the centrality of Islam to this community and beyond.

Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton,Metropolite 2008, Photo-Montage, 8ftx29in, Courtesy of the Artist
A a composite image of the capitol city of Abu Dhabi, which sits on the island connected to the mainland by bridges. The pristine Gulf, and the green zones found on the island, are both set against the newly constructed high rise buildings found in the city.

Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton, Metropolite(detail) 2008, Photo-Montage, 8ftx29in, Courtesy of the Artist

Ayyub bin Russell Hamilton, Footsteps of Bukhari (detail) 2008, Photo-Montage, 8ftx29in, Courtesy of the Artist. In this detail of the larger work Ayyub can be seen traversing the desert landscape of the Emirates.

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