Visual artist Zahra Jewanjee: Expo’s Hammour House workshops explore the natural world creatively

Q&A

DUBAI, 25 November 2021 – Celebrated UAE-based visual artist Zahra Jewanjee is one of the creatives chosen by Expo 2020 Dubai’s one-of-a-kind community art project, Hammour House, to lead a series of fun and creative workshops that explore the life of hammour, also known as the orange-spotted grouper, and other marine life through art.

Speaking on Thursday, 25 November, ahead of her final Hammour House takeover workshop, which experiments with various media to reflect on the importance of co-existence for underwater ecosystems to thrive, Jewanjee shared her inspirations and explained how Hammour House is bringing communities together.

As a young visual artist, who explores group dynamics, how important do you think Hammour House is in bringing communities together?
“Hammour House is an amazing community project. Ahmed Al Enezi [Senior Manager, Expo 2020 Dubai and lead of Hammour House] has really brought people together to explore the natural environment through art. Participants are curious enough to come in and explore art in relation to Hammer House’s sustainability themes.”

As an artist and educator living and working in the UAE, how is your work inspired by the values of the UAE?
“It’s all about community building – all of us coming together. Through these workshops, I’ve met people from different parts of the world and from the UAE, who walk in with a curious mind to learn, explore and develop an understanding of the Hammour House project, which is really nice.”

Expo 2020 is all about inspiring the next generation – our leaders of tomorrow. How important do you think artist takeover workshops, such as the one you’re leading, are in inspiring our youth?
“What’s really inspiring about the artist workshop series is that we are bringing in methodology, discipline and material exploration, which isn’t usually that easily accessible. We are not only exploring the natural world, but also offering the opportunity to be creative and playful. I think young participants come away thinking that they could do this – there is a level of confidence that they gain. It’s also been really nice to see people coming from other emirates just to attend the workshops – it’s been lovely to give them the chance to explore, whether through drawing, printing or any other medium.”

Your workshop has a sustainability theme, which is also one of Expo 2020’s three subthemes. In what ways do you think art can communicate sustainability messages?
“With regards to the workshops I’m running, we’ve made sure that the workshop itself – as well as using recycled paper – uses materials that give participants the chance to consider the waste they create.”

Expo 2020’s subtheme of Opportunity is one of hope for many – can events like this enhance opportunities for aspiring artists?
“Absolutely. Hammour House is inviting everybody to walk in and consider becoming an artist by exploring their creativity and thinking about their future.”

What are you hoping participants will come away with?
“What I love about Hammour House is its multidisciplinary approach: exploring science and also exploring how science can be creative. I want participants to come away knowing that they don’t have to think about disciplines separately – they can be connected, thought about together, played with and explored together.”

Inviting communities around the world to connect with the issues of sustainability, Hammour House examines the coral reefs of the UAE and its inhabitants, particularly the orange-spotted grouper, commonly known locally as hammour through an exciting creative programme that includes daily knitting experiences and innovative UAE-based artist- and art teacher-led workshops.