Interview: Julia Ibbini

Julia Ibbini is an interdisciplinary artist currently based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She is of dual-nationality (Jordanian-British) and has spent most of her life in the Middle East. 

Julia studied at Leeds College of Art and Design, United Kingdom graduating in 2002 . Her work has been featured at The Mojo Gallery in Dubai, Art Dubai, as well as in a number of venues in Abu Dhabi including The Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Emirates Palace and Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage. 

Julia has been organizing pop-up shows with fellow artists for many years and in 2013 founded ‘No White Walls,’ an artist-led initiative that develops exhibitions and arts projects around the UAE.

What is your earliest memory of being drawn to pattern and symmetry? 

I recall running my hands across patterned surfaces as a very small child and poring over books about anything from design, typography to architecture as I got older. Despite my fascination with pattern, symmetry, and numbers, I was the kid at the very back of maths class (my teachers eventually decided I was a lost cause) - now almost everything I do is connected to algorithms and geometry which is interesting.

When did you start creating work with computer aided design and why? 

I taught myself Illustrator and Photoshop about 15 years ago, initially because it was needed in my day job. One day it clicked that I could use those as tools in my art practice to create depth of colour and detail that weren’t possible by hand (I had used a mix of more traditional painting and collage up until that point and was becoming frustrated with the limitations I felt I was facing). Over time and as I developed my skills, the work has become more line centric and far more complex in terms of the patterns I’m exploring. In the past year I’ve been using a combination of small custom-developed applications that create specific elements of each piece and allow me to work far faster - which is needed when the level of detail and the time it takes to laser cut a piece is factored in.

Is there a certain place that inspires you as far as patterns and symmetry go? 

I live in the United Arab Emirates; even just walking up the street, I am surrounded by patterns everywhere that are symbolic of the mix of cultures that make up the cities here. I find I am most inspired by pattern across the Arab world, and Turkey and Iran. Whenever I’m in London, my favourite place is the Victoria and Albert Museum, I can spend hours wandering around The Middle East and Asia exhibits.

On your website you say that you like to “I like to physically investigate things, walking streets, taking photographs, making notes.” When you investigate looking for inspiration do you go out looking for inspiration for a specific piece or do you let inspiration come as you go? 

It’s important to just get outside the studio, I’ll go for a run, walk the streets, head to the mountains for a hike, and then go back into the studio with a fresh perspective. I tend to be able to turn ideas around in my head more when I’m outside, ask questions like ‘what if I approached it that way’ or 'what about that material’ etc. There’s a lot of photo and note taking although they are not usually directly connected to a piece I’m working on.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

The creative process is an endless cycle of striving to be better, trying to learn, to become more skilled, failing (quite often spectacularly), succeeding (on occasion) - I love it all. My favorite part is when I’ve finished a piece and it’s all framed; I do a little dance in the studio (because making art is a privilege, and because sometimes the work looks really cool) before getting back to work.