By Sophie Mayuko Arni
Published on April 12th, 2023
I first met Jumairy last year in a fitting place, at Jaow Café, off of Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road. On a rooftop of this two-story villa converted into a cafe, Jumairy pointed out the different establishments and houses of his home neighborhood. Did you know Jumeirah’s white-sand beach used to start at Jumeirah Beach Road? One fact I learned amongst many other anecdotes from the era before the iconic Burj Al Arab and the Palm Jumeirah made this beachfront a global symbol for opulent luxury.
Jumairy, a Dubai-born and Jumeirah-based artist has seen his neighborhood, and by extension, his city, grow in front of his eyes. A multihyphenate artist, with an anonymous name which he plays on, Jumairy’s most famous work is arguably A Comma, in Arabic, which he premiered for Speculative Landscapes, a group exhibition curated by Maya Allison at NYUAD Art Gallery in 2019. Filling a white cube with pink sand, and intricate pink ceiling lighting, the installation made waves and was a turning point for Jumairy’s career, as you’ll read in the following interview.
March 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of Jumairy’s first exhibition in Dubai. After a decade, it was time for the artist to reflect on his journey so far and the three chapters of his ongoing practice, walking us through the highs and the lows, and his views on his city’s ever-changing art scene. On a late-night Dubai-Tokyo Zoom call, energies were high. It was a Full Moon night, Saturn was moving from Aquarius to Pisces – and as Jumairy pointed out, it is also the eve of Hag El Leila.
Someone said to me before “If we can’t make work that’s better than Dubai, then maybe we shouldn’t make it,” and it’s exactly that for me.
Sophie Mayuko Arni: Finally, a sit-down interview. I’m very excited about where this conversation will lead us. Let’s delve right into it. We just came out of Dubai’s annual art week, and I want to reflect on a decade of your practice. Let’s take it back to March 2013. Could you share with us the beginnings of your practice and career as Jumairy, the artist?
Jumairy: My first exhibition in Dubai was at Sikka Art Fair in 2013. I showed a series of framed photographs, depicting living ants on them. The series was titled “Uncertain Past, Uncertain Future”.
Growing up, art was not something I thought of pursuing, I always wanted to be a musician, a pop star. To be honest – I jumped into art as an escape. I needed to do something of my own, outside of university. I was dealing with a bit of a hard time during that period, given my father’s illness and family-related challenges. I was in between majors because there weren’t enough students interested in studying my first choice – Renewable Energy. I even wanted to take art as an elective but I wasn’t able to for the same reason. Visual Arts, Art History, Fine Art were all niche majors, especially in an all-male university.
To be honest – I jumped into art as an escape.
I thought – I’ll pursue art practice on my own. I got an internship at Art Dubai in 2012, and while I was working there, I showed my work to a colleague, who was managing Sikka Art Fair at the time. They were portraits, mostly photography, a medium I was exploring at the time. She asked me – why don’t you apply to Sikka? I didn’t know at first if my work would be accepted, if they were good enough to be exhibited. But she asked me “what’s the worse that could happen?” which made me realize I had nothing to lose. I applied the following year, got in, and just kept the ball rolling after that.
S.M.A.: So in those early days, you entered into the world of contemporary art even though your first love is music.
J.: I was an angsty teenager and was part of a band with three friends called “The Stoned Project”. I was the bass player and backup singer, and we would mostly write hard rock-inspired songs, on top of covering our favorite songs.
I still produce songs and work on music every day. Writing songs is something that fundamentally brings me joy, to this day. Music is my real happy place. There is no real expectations when it comes to the music, both internally or externally. I’m able to have fun, experiment with beats, melodies, vocals, samples. There is absolutely no judgment.
Over the years, art has become a career for me. There’s a shift in energy that happens when something you love becomes a career. Not necessarily a negative shift, but it’s like you owe it to yourself to become successful at it. In that way, being a contemporary artist, in all the subtleties this title entails, became a mission, a job for me.
There’s a shift in energy that happens when something you love becomes a career. Not necessarily a negative shift, but it’s like you owe it to yourself to become successful at it.
S.A.: As we’ll get into it later, your work deals with creating a fanbase around the myth of “Jumairy”. ‘Who is Jumairy? What is Jumairy?’ are questions you often hear, I’m sure. I was wondering where this fascination with celebrity culture and fandom came from. Which pop star has left the biggest impact on you growing up? I know you have a special admiration for pop icons such as Beyonce and Britney Spears.
J.: 100%, I’m completely inspired by pop culture. Some of my favorites stars are Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, PINK, and of course the queen Madonna. These businesswomen were the early masters at creating their own brand and making it work in the creative industry. I’m very inspired by how they found characters, amplified them, and made them into real-life personas. Not unlike Jumairy’s “celebrity-making process.”
I was intrigued by pop music ever since stumbling across a Top of the Pops magazine in my aunt’s room, I remember Spice Girls being on the cover. I just really loved how out of the world and fantastical everything looked.
Linking it back to my art practice, I incorporate these influences into my work, from my performances to a project I made dedicated to Cardi B. I even had a specific loop from Beyonce’s Formation playing on repeat during my first solo exhibition, welcoming visitors into the world of Jumairy.
I’m very inspired by how [pop stars] found characters, amplified them, and made them into real-life personas. Not unlike Jumairy’s “celebrity-making process.”
S.M.A.: I think I once listened to one of your EPs on Apple Music. A mix of electro beats, techno, and some noise music too, with pop melodies and interesting high-pitch vocals. How would you define the music you produce?
J.: You got it, it’s a blender of all my influence, from pop music as we mentioned earlier to punk rock to electronic experimental music.
I think the idea of producing my own records became clearer to me in Germany [2010/2011] while I was there for my father’s medical treatment, I had a lot of time on my hand so all I did was buy albums from the supermarket, research songwriters and music producers and of course listened to music non-stop. I would listen to some songs over and over again. I used to analyze the song’s structure and lyrics and would dream of different ways to make them sound better. Through experimentation, I figured out different ways to create sounds that make sense to my taste. I think I made over 100 songs during that 6 months period.
It’s funny that you mentioned the high-pitched vocals. female-led rock bands are my favorite type of rock music. I really love the contrast that happens between the heavy guitars and female vocals.
For me I see my first album as somewhere between the Spice Girls, Bjork and Marilyn Manson – I was actually listening to some of his music last night, a song called “The Nobodies” – that’s one of my favorite songs of his.
I think that if you view all of my influences through the lens of Anasheed (Islamic religious music) and Khaleeji love songs, you’ll start to understand the drama and the repetition in the way I build these soundscapes.
The Early Works
S.M.A.: Does this love for music explain your tendency to explore more ephemeral, performance-based work? Could you tell the readers how and when you knew you wanted to pursue a practice in performance and installation art, instead of more traditional fine art media?
J.: I started as a painter actually. You know, I tell myself sometimes that I’d like to go back to painting, take a year to just paint non stop, just to see how it feels again.
I stopped painting because I felt the need to extend myself beyond the canvas. I personally felt that the canvas is limiting. I wanted to go beyond what the wooden frame allowed. That’s how I first started video and performance-based work. I then realized I would rather have other people perform in the spaces I create rather than performing myself, and that’s how I started to slowly build these installations in my work. I guess that’s me in a nutshell: A performance artist, who builds experiences.
I guess that’s me in a nutshell: A performance artist, who builds experiences.
S.M.A.: That’s a good segway into anonymity. Does remaining anonymous help with experimentation? Does it help take the pressure off?
J.: Jumairy exists in a grey zone. I’ve said previously in an interview: “My voice is neither eastern or western, it’s not black nor white; it’s not masculine nor feminine. My voice is not identarian”.
I think that concept mirrors the world we live in. It also mirrors the city we live in. We’re very lucky in Dubai to be welcoming of all backgrounds, all ethnicities. Growing up here means you adapt to [Dubai] all the time, rather than it adapting to you. You can’t exist with a fixed, static identity or mindset in the UAE. You have to continuously grow and work with the other, whatever the other is to you.
You can’t exist with a fixed, static identity or mindset in the UAE. You have to continuously grow and work with the other, whatever the other is to you.
S.M.A.: Everyone knows you, but no one really knows you. Is that part of the Jumairy mission? What’s Jumairy’s mission?
J.: I think I was very aware early on in my career of how privileged and lucky we are as artists in this region, more specifically as an Emirati artist in the region.
You get a lot of opportunities and a lot of exposure because of how small the community is, but also because of the great support systems we have. For me, I took it as a challenge, I wanted to see if my work can stand strong without a face attached to it, without an identity.
I didn’t want my artwork to be representative of anyone, including myself. I can change who “Jumairy” is and who “Jumairy” stands for, and there is a sense of freedom in this. It’s like creating an avatar. The options are limitless.
I’m aware I miss some opportunities when it comes to participating in exhibitions and attracting press because I chose to remain anonymous. But I made peace with that. If you don’t respect my boundaries, I would happily withdraw from your space, your publication or your exhibition.
I can change who “Jumairy” is and who “Jumairy” stands for, and there is a sense of freedom in this. It’s like creating an avatar.
Coming of Age: The Pink era, BRZ5
S.M.A.: I think a lot of us in the UAE art world really came to know your work through A Comma, in Arabic – the pink desert room at Speculative Landscapes, a group exhibition curated by Maya Allison at NYUAD Art Gallery. I’m curious about your relationship to pink, specifically to fuschia pink. When did you first start using pink?
J.: Back in the Myspace days, I was playing around with the contrast in my selfies. The majority of my selfies were in black and white, and I loved adding a pop of color, whether it was neon blue or neon green. For me, though, pink was always the most fun color to play with.
This mirrored my artistic journey, I used to paint a lot of black and white portraits, charcoal was my favorite material to use. It was a very comfortable space for me to play in.
But when I started to use color, I felt like I had more power. Dividing my practice into colors wasn’t a conscious choice – until I started to look back, and I realized that different gestures belonged to different categories, and those categories were colors just like a karma chameleon – red, gold and green. [Jumairy giggles.]
To answer your question, I started working consciously with pink in 2014 or 2015. I was making videos and publishing them online – you can trace them back to that time. I had a purple desert first, and then it turned into a pink desert.
My use of pink is linked to a body of work entitled BRZ5, which deals with heavy topics such as death and remembrance, I thought pink would be a suitable color to deal with such traumatic events. Pink is considered to be a happy color, it’s the color of kids’ toys, and barbies, but pink – to me – always had a sinister feel to it.
Pink is considered to be a happy color, it’s the color of kids’ toys, and barbies, but pink – to me – always had a sinister feel to it.
S.M.A.: Let’s expand on that a little further.
J.: Pink is a very soft, pleasing color, until it’s not. If you amp it up towards fuschia, it becomes aggressive and painful to the eye. That’s what I liked about it: it’s a fun, attractive color that encapsulates both positive and negative emotions.
There was a scientist in the late 60s-early 70s who was studying humans reaction to different colors and found out that a specific shade of pink –I believe it was called Baker-Miller pink – had a calming effect on people, so they started painting prison cells this specific color.
The calming effects worked for a short while until prisoners started to get irrationally aggressive and angry. That’s when they realized that the color only worked short-term, it’s long-term effects were not as ideal.
S.M.A.: Let’s talk about BRZ5. It was the title of your solo exhibition in Milan in 2016.
J.: It was great. It was my first solo exhibition and I felt all grown-up. I got a lot of publicity from that exhibition: iD, Vogue, and other big-name publications wrote about it. But I was taken aback when I realized no one in Dubai knew what I was doing in Milan.
I think when it comes to BRZ5, visitors understood it was about death. We had interactive elements in the exhibition, a floating casket, with a the body of S⋀M in it [Jumairy’s broken Samsung phone]. It was a funeral for a phone. With sound and video, flashlights lighting up the hallways. With such a heavy subject I think the curators [Francesco Urbano Ragazzi] and I really wanted it to feel like an adventure/a fun maze, rather than something macabre and sinister.
That’s exactly what I feel the whole BRZ5 series was set to do, leading up to A Comma, in Arabic – I wanted to create a fun space that explores heavy themes.
S.M.A.: The original meaning of Barzakh (Arabic: برزخ) is probably the most poignant definition of “liminal space”: a recurring concept with video artists.
J.: In Arabic, barzakh is equal to a purgatory. It’s the space in between life and judgement day. it’s where the body rests, awaiting to meet its creator.
The first time you lose someone you love you lose with them the sense that everything lasts forever. You suddenly become aware of the ephemerality of existence. My biggest regrets in life revolve around death, I regret missing my friend Saeed's call the day he had his car accident [he passed away from that car accident] and I wish I had visited my aunt more often before she left us.
I was lucky enough to hang around some of my idols like Hasan Sharif when I was starting out. Not a lot of artists from my generation had the chance to spend time with him, and because of my crazy anonymous rules, I didn’t think to take any photos with him. I always giggle when I remember the time I made him listen to my song Aconite. I think that’s why I still really love that song.
S.M.A.: Then emerged A Comma, in Arabic. Could you expand on the process behind installing it at NYUAD Art Gallery?
J.: When I started my conversation with Maya Allison, we instantly knew we wanted to continue where I started with the BRZ5 show and continue building that world.
Initially there were some other ideas, like playing with this AI character I created called S⋀M [the dead phone in the casket], or maybe work on robotics. However, I was on the phone with Maya one day and had this moment of realization - when I thought ‘Maybe I need to bring the whole space to life, not bring S⋀M to life’.
We had multiple conversations after that, I really enjoy working with a curator and working out ideas together. We did a lot of research, even when it came to the smallest grain of sand. We looked at the texture, and the different techniques of dying the sand.
There are also other sound and light elements to A Comma, in Arabic that make it a more immersive experience than just a sand room. I wanted audiences to feel like they were in a glitched-up computer: what it feel like for a space to hold your memories and nightmares together.
I designed the space to record people’s conversations and produced glitchy sounds when they moved. The sound increased when people were there. Execution-wise, it was very detailed. For the light, I wanted a pink hue to light up only the sealing, a sliver of a pink LED – not total LED lights. That would ruin the fantasy.
I wanted people to look up and see the color pink. We made it happen at the end, without showing the light source. When you work with great collaborators you always end up with the greatest work. That’s what working with the NYUAD Art Gallery team was like: they raised the bar so high.
S.M.A.: How did that installation impact your career?
J.: A Comma, in Arabic 100% had an impact on my career. Until today people look back to it, and they either want me to replicate it, or want to replicate it for themselves.
I understand why A Comma, in Arabic garners this much attention. It’s striking. But I fail to understand why you would not just approach me to execute it.
Just last week I was talking to a prominent curator, who was in Jeddah for a visit. “We walked into the space, and they had a pink carpet, and we all thought of you,” he told me. “Why, it’s a carpet?”, I asked. “Jumairy It doesn’t matter. You subconsciously left something in people’s minds, whenever we see pink floors, we think of you.”
Maturing into The Mission12. Jumairy, Album Photoshoot, Image courtesy of the artist.
S.M.A.: We now turn into phase 3 of the Jumairy’s portfolio, entitled “The Mission”. The theme color is a vibrant red. From my understanding, this current stage of your practice deals with fame and creating a myth-like figure out of Jumairy.
J.: Yes, The Mission is playing up the fantasy of the pop star/rock star. The works – ranging from performance to installation – centers around the question of what would an obsessed fan of Britney Spears/Jumairy do.
It all started when I subscribed to the Scientology newsletter. I was getting monthly newsletters in my email, and was fascinated by how this whole religion could emerge out of a science-fiction book and exist with a cult-like following.
I got increasingly interested in ideologies. I wanted to tackle the topic of religious communities such as the Rajneesh movement or People Temple movement, and how that applies to our generation of social media influencers, makeup gurus and pop icons obsession.
I wanted to study and emulate or create performances that are inspired by the cross road of these two worlds.
S.M.A.: As part of The Mission, you had two performances at art fairs, one at Abu Dhabi Art and the other at Art Dubai.
J.: The first was at Abu Dhabi Art, entitled ‘The Mission’ in 2017. With a group of hired performers, the idea was to push the audience to unknowingly convert into becoming Jumairy fans by chanting a hymn I’ve written inspired by the titles of the songs from my first album. The second, ‘The Mission: Jumairy Loves You’ was held at Art Dubai in 2019. It was a continuation of the first performance where now you see the fan base performing what looks like a pilgrimage towards Jumairy’s golden record plaque while violently chanting a message of love.
Here’s a funny thing that happened during the Jumairy Loves You performance – in the last few days of the fair, the performers called me. They were told they couldn’t perform anymore. We had agreed on the performance with Art Dubai, we were going to run it for 3-4 days, and it was happening continuously through the days.
We spoke with the managers at Art Dubai, who were also confused as to who was stopping the performance. We decided to follow the performers, in order to see who is stopping them.
As they are walking into the Mina A'Salam valet area, we heard screams from the hotel security, who told them not to do this there. I walked up to them with the Art Dubai management, told them we had already agreed on this performance, that this was part of the art fair, and that the hotel had already been informed about it. They told us that we’re scaring away the hotel guests, that they didn’t want to come into the hotel anymore.
But we really had a huge crowd following us, and they were all headed into the hotel. Finally, the hotel managers screamed the real reason behind their dislike of the performance: “They’re not even saying it right! It’s NOT Jumairy! It’s Jumeirah [name of the hotel chain]!”
S.M.A.: That’s so Dubai. You also exhibited The Mission: Hala Walla!!! in Abu Dhabi, at Manarat Al Saadiyat last year.
J.: ‘The Mission: Hala Walla!!!’ is a multimedia sound installation, involving a large red Nissan Patrol car – the most typical car you will see driving down Jumeirah Beach Road. I wanted to expand on the idea of obsession and fame: what if objects, not humans, are now obsessed with Jumairy?
For this installation, we programmed the car to seduce and flirt with the audience with pick-up lines, not unlike the driving culture on Jumeirah road. The longer the conversation went on, the more the car would throw Jumairy’s name in sentences, with the aim to recruit the person it’s speaking to into the cult of Jumairy.
Looking back, the first iteration of ‘The Mission’ was part of programme by Abu Dhabi Art called Beyond, curated by Mohammed Kazem and Cristina de Marchi. Recently I met someone who told me that it took him 6 years to finally understand the meaning of that performance and how strange that realization felt.
That’s exactly what I aim to do with my work: I try to put people in situations where they are removed from reality. I lead them to their inner child, or the opposite – I make them feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to spoon feed them what my message is.
I don’t want somebody to experience ‘The Mission’ and think “Oh, this is post-internet art” or “This work is about the history of cake”. No, I want people to get away from intellectualizing my work and instead have fun experiencing it.
I try to put people in situations where they are removed from reality. I want people to get away from intellectualizing my work and instead have fun experiencing it.
After that, they can think whatever they want – I know I can’t control if people like the work or not, but I do want them to feel a sense of wonder and/or confusion. Why am I here, talking to a car? Why am I in this room, that has pink sand and why does this song sound like it has two people singing on it even though I know it’s one?
S.M.A.: Back to colors. Why red, after pink?
J.: Red is the color of love, of passion. That’s the reason I use it for the cult. But the exact shade of red I use comes from a Givenchy collection, that was an homage to Riccardo Tisci after his departure as the creative director of the label.
That same year I was invited to take part in an exhibition at the Julius Baer lounge at Art Dubai, an homage exhibition dedicated to Hasan Sharif curated by Cristiana De Marchi. I wanted to wear head to toe red, and that Givenchy collection in particular inspired the Jumairy uniform greatly.
I also decided to wear the bunny head to commemorate that moment. One of Hasan Sharif’s favorite artists is John Cage, I performed a piece by him titled ‘Lecture on Nothing’ while playing a grand piano. When I was done and stepped outside the lounge, I thought – Wow, this is so funny! I’m wearing a bunny mask at Art Dubai – this is my “star is born” moment!
I’ve been wearing red in my performances ever since.
However, It’s not like I’m forever done with pink. After my NYUAD exhibition, I went to a psychic – and told him I was so tired of being known for my pink desert. I wanted to switch it up and go all red. The psychic warned me, “do not reject the pink, or the pink will haunt you.” The pink did haunt me.
S.M.A.: What do you feel was missing from the UAE art scene when you first started out, that today exists and thrives? And the opposite question: what did you cherish as a young artist that you feel is slowly disappearing today?
J.: Art education is more accessible and available now, that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind.
But truly, reflecting back on what has changed over the decade, I’d have to mention the element of transience. A lot of time has passed since I started my career, and because Dubai is a place of transit, a lot of people I started with either don’t live here anymore or have stopped making work.
Just to take a recent example – I was walking around Art Dubai last week. Over the years, I built great relationships with gallerists, members of the art community both regionally and internationally. I was surprised that this year, I couldn’t recognize 70% of the crowd. I don’t know, Maybe It’s a moment to celebrate. Our scene is not as small as it used to be.
Our scene is not as small as it used to be.
The art community 10 years ago was small and so tight-knit, I’ll be forever grateful for starting when I did. At least we would hang out more often. We were able to have very honest conversations with one another, watch each other grow and celebrate our successes together. Until today that group of artists are still some of my best friends in the world.
On the other hand, because the art scene has become a commercial space, I feel that young artists don’t have as many opportunities to experiment with their art. I wish sometimes that more artists would just record a video, take a photo, just for the sake of it. Taking a photo, not for Instagram, but for you and for yourself. That’s something that’s really missing in our community. More than a decade ago, we were missing artists, now we’re missing experimentation.
More than a decade ago, we were missing artists, now we’re missing experimentation.
I also empathize with the new generation. People need to feel safe in a space to be able to experiment. That’s what I’ve learned from the older generation of artists: you need to find your tribe and when you find them, you need to trust them to give you sincere, thoughtful critique and support each other to grow.
S.M.A.: Let’s pause a bit on the topic of commercialization. I wonder how you feel about gallery representation.
J.: I always tell artists that it’s ok if they aren’t signed with a gallery. Especially for young artists, it’s fine not to be represented. You’ll be able to play and experiment more on your own and figure out what it is that you really want to say before you take the leap and work with a gallery.
In this digital age, you can always make money independently by utilizing your skills, whether it’s copywriting or illustrating. There’s so much to do. These activities will allow you to build a network or even just allow you time to work on your practice.
Most galleries are going to push you to make more sellable work – that’s the nature of their business. Just don’t be stuck in the loop of only producing to sell. And remember, that sometimes you finish an artwork, and you love it – you’re happy with it – and sometimes you end up hating your work and you should be ok with that. Just keep making. As long as you continue making honest work.
S.M.A.: Honesty is the foundation for everything else. Being honest with yourself is the only way to feel truly at peace with yourself.
J.: You can center your whole practice around any topic you connect with, you just have to be honest about it, and go for it 150%.
If you want to make art about money, that’s fine – make it about money and consumerism. Photograph or paint money, make sculptures with dollar bills, make a documentary. Push it, hammer it, both aesthetically and conceptually. Research everything there is to know about money, the symbolism of currencies, the types of liquid and illiquid assets, how transactions have changed from barter to flows of capital. Become the expert in the topic you explore. No one should tell you what to make work about; that’s your right and freedom as an artist. Just know your topic, and be the best representative of it.
S.M.A.: You talked about art education earlier. Since you couldn’t study contemporary art practice or theory at university, can you tell us more about your experiences at SEAF? You also participated in Campus Art Dubai. I feel like these programs were created especially to fill a gap in the postgraduate art education, and have done a tremendous job at educating a very strong generation of artists in the UAE.
J.: You know, sometimes some programmes work for you and sometimes some don’t. I’ve gone through most education art programmes in the UAE, and for me, the best programme that the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation had was “Explorations in the Arts”. It was a great introductory programme into the art scene. It had both an education course and an internship in an organization in the UAE. We got to learn about how a different art community operates – and we got to travel to my favorite city in the world, Berlin, and learn about the art community there.
The way I work is different in the sense that I sometimes take months or years to finalize a work conceptually before even executing it. This is why CAD [Campus Art Dubai] was a game-changer for me. We could spend entire sessions dissecting texts, connecting with other research, deciding whether we were going to take some parts of it in an upcoming project or not. We were building ideas together, having layered discussions. Most importantly, there weren’t any right or wrong answers. Murtaza [Vali] and Usma [Rizvi] [running CAD program at the time] are some of the most incredible people I’ve had the pleasure to work with: so kind, so understanding, and generous. They allow you space to rethink and restructure ideas without judgment, and they truly put effort in understanding us and our practices.
S.M.A.: How do you stay clear of group-think in a city, and by extension an art scene, that’s often very much focused on “trends” and the next hot thing?
J.: As artists we cannot claim to be sole rangers in whatever conversation we’re having. When it comes to our artwork, we are all continuing a conversation or building from a point that has started long before we were born. It’s this forever cycle of trying to understand the past, present or the future.
A lot of trends come and go sometimes based on collective interest. I’m not denying that, however, the biggest mistake you can make as an artist is this flip-flopping and following these trends. This is why I always say being honest in your practice is very important.
I’m a big foodie, but does that mean that I’ll start making work about food because a group of artists have found success in it? No, that’s not true to who I am as an artist, but that could work for someone else. You just need to have some self-awareness and push forward with confidence.
S.M.A.: Well, food art makes sense in Dubai, as a food & beverage capital.
J.: It does. Totally. And some artists are great at it too.
Someone said to me before “If we can’t make work that’s better than Dubai, then maybe we shouldn’t make it,” and it’s exactly that for me.
We are already living in the most forward thinking, future of the future utopia. It’s okay to just take a breather and enjoy it for what it is. We don’t have to always respond to it.
We are already living in the most forward thinking, future of the future utopia. We don’t have to always respond to it.
S.M.A.: What’s next for Jumairy? I was wondering about your thoughts on NFTs and the metaverse. I feel like NFTs really mesh well with the cult-like performative aspect to your practice, as well as the digital footprint you have accumulated as “Jumairy.” The perfect username.
J.: I always say that I’m an Internet kid. I love technology, I love seeing things progress. I don’t believe in looking back a lot. I love the future.
But I wanted to take time to understand how I can contribute positively to the world of NFTs. I’ve always worked with new media, tech, sound, digital collage, and creating digital footprint: I’m 100% aware of that and the power that digital art holds.
I love technology, I love seeing things progress.
I wanted to understand more about blockchain technology and build something unique. Only now, I feel ready to engage with NFTs. A lot will be revealed soon. I’m genuinely excited.
S.M.A.: Are you participating in any upcoming exhibitions, or have plans for future performances?
J.: We just concluded a group exhibition in Riyadh where we re-performed ‘The Mission: Jumairy Loves You’. I was selected to be part of an international delegation of artists by the Sundance Institute, the programme is education focused and built around the legacy of New Frontier at the Sundance Film Festival.
My first NFT project will be unveiled later this spring/summer in an exhibition in Brussels, Belgium.
I’m also very happy to announce that I will be performing during this year’s Art Basel in Switzerland, as part of a programme curated by the incredible Munira Al Sayegh.
S.M.A: Very exciting. Last question for you – a more personal one for me – we had private conversations in the past about your interest in East Asia and the art scenes of Tokyo and Seoul. For our readers based in Japan, could you expand on your interest in Japanese contemporary art?
J.: I love, love, love Japan. East Asia in general, but especially Japanese culture. Like many kids of my generation, I grew up watching anime such as Case Closed, Hunter X Hunter, Digimon, Death note, D.N. Angel and Tokyo Ghoul. I can go on and on when it comes to my love for anime.
I also love Japanese fashion, I love Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Junya Watanabe.
I’m not signed to a gallery yet – but I’ve always thought, the best fit for me as an artist is to be signed with a Japanese or a Korean gallery, if not a local Dubai gallery. I think it could be a great fit. Given the scene’s openness to digital art, and the themes I explore in my work.
I think one of the main similarity between Emirati and Japanese culture is our respect for the collective. We come from a tribal society and showing respect for other members of your clan, especially your elders, is something we take a lot of pride in. I’m a big believer in the community and the tribes I belong to – whether my friends or my family, even a chosen family. I want to be with a gallery that works with me as a family unit, a tribe. We grow together and we support each other through the ups and downs.
I graduated with a degree in Psychology. From a Western point of view, there is heavy focus on the individual: “Stand your ground, be your authentic self; always push for your independence!”
“Be yourself, even if you feel your parents misunderstand you!” I understand that perspective, but it’s not a mentality I subscribe to. Thinking this way can be counterproductive for people who grew up in cultures like ours. I don’t feel like a powerful individual if I don’t have my tribe around me.
I’m a big believer in the community and the tribes I belong to.
One artist on your mind right now?Britney Spears
What are you reading these days?Physics of the Future by Nitshiou Kaku
Favorite magazine?Kajal Magazine
I can’t choose.
I’m not chosing. [Jumairy refuses to answer this question.]
A song is trapped in your head?Elissa’s song ‘Hobak Waja’ more specifically the line ““مطرح ما كنا نحترق، صار الجمر بردان (Translation: The place in which we used to burn, the coal has gone cold)
Favorite airport in the world?The airport does not matter, as long as there’s a great duty free!
Biggest role model?
Black high-top Converse
An app I check often is ‘Moon', it helps me keep track of the moon cycle.
Red long sleeve tshirt, red leather pants, black leather boots and a long black fur coat.
Favorite word in Arabic?كيفي. , I don’t know how to translate it, but it’s basically a statement to say “it’s my choice and done”.
And in English?Love.
Jumairy (b.1992, Dubai) is an artist who uses experimentations with sound, film, digital technologies and performance to create an immersive world composed of sensory experiences. Jumairy's work has been presented through residencies and exhibitions across the region and internationally. He was commissioned for the inaugural 'UAE Unlimited' exhibition 'A Public Privacy' (Dubai, 2015) and 'Is Old Gold?' (Dubai, 2017). In 2015/16 he participated in the Art Dubai A.i.R. programme in collaboration with Delfina Foundation and Tashkeel, which culminated in an installation and performance work at the fair. A residency with Maraya Arts Centre resulted in 'BRZ5', his first solo exhibition in Milan, Italy organised by FARE Arte. His work has been collected and supported by Barjeel Art Foundation and Maraya Art Centre as well as being acquired by private collectors.
Sophie Mayuko Arni is an independent curator based between Dubai and Tokyo. She founded Global Art Daily in 2015.
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