Artist Elior Hazan sees himself in the character Aladdin, from the movies. The character similarities being, someone who has lived on the streets and strives to survive. He is a 33-year-old graffiti artist from Tel Aviv, who grew up in a slum neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv that later became one of the most prestigious neighbourhoods in the country.
“When I was a kid, I used to work in the Carmel Market in Israel, painting on the Tel Aviv promenade for $5 and working various jobs in order to support myself and my family. As I grew up and became more prominent in the art community, I chose to remain humble and remember my roots, my community, where I come from, just like the character from the movie,” says the artist, who was in Dubai last month, as part of a first of its kind artists residency with Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown, an art boutique hotel. Through a live art performance on the last weekend of April 2021, during the Peace of Art Night at the hotel, he painted people across cultures to illustrate the multicultural aspect of the UAE. “I aspire to engage communities through my art and my live performances, for everyone to feel included and I am happy that my art encourages the UAE residents to come to immerse themselves in the Israeli culture,” he said.
As part of the Peace of Art project, Elior Hazan teamed up with five incredibly talented home-grown artists of varying nationalities, who each contributed to the final piece of art. Artists included Iraqi artist and architect Muhanad Al Nassiri, Paris-born digital and mixed media artist Chloé Robin a.k.a Azaidé, Pakistani fine artist Ramsha Fatima, and Emirati artists Mediyah Al Maktoum and Reem Al Falasi.
He flew back home earlier this month, with a promise to be back soon, “I am incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity to visit Dubai, for the first time ever, to explore the culture and the heritage of art practices. This first artist residency was so enriching and successful that it has provided several opportunities to grow as an artist in the UAE. I am looking forward to many more artistic projects, some currently being discussed which I cannot reveal, just yet. I am confident that you will see me again, soon,” he said.
Excerpts from our conversation.
What does art mean to you?
Art is not just about aesthetics. It is therapy, a kind of liberation, it can help us escape from reality and develop our imagination. It is truly joyful, and to me it gives hope. Art is also a universal language that everyone can understand, in this sense art is unifying. Indeed, it is a powerful communication tool.
Where would you say your early inspirations from art came from?
My initial inspiration came from the neighbourhood where I grew up, which has lots of art galleries and street art. This was where I painted my first mural for which I continue to get feedback and positive accolades. Of course, every stage I go through in life also helps me grow as an artist and adds volume and soul to my creations.
Any experiences from your childhood that you’d like to share with us?
As cliché as it sounds, anything is possible. All my life I have loved art and I have wanted to create art without thinking about how much money I would make. One day, I was contacted by a Hollywood star that I painted on a surfboard. In one instant, because she loved my style, I became famous and managed to take my art to the next level.
Your art is a mix of graffiti meets revolutionary, if we may say so. Tell us a little about the thought process when you approach a subject?
I think art is revolutionary because in every painting and every sculpture there is a statement, even if you draw an apple on a black background there is a statement in it. When I create, I draw a life story and, in each drawing, you can see the details and all the stages of the person I am portraying. The statement does not have to be revolutionary but a statement of peace, love and humanity. My revolution is unity.
Do you have any specific material that you like to paint on the most, walls, surfboards, etc.?
As an artist, I like to experiment with various materials, I believe any material or item can be turned into a work of art. I particularly like to paint on wood because of the way it absorbs the colours and the possibility of adding other elements to it. One of my recent works on wood was a painting of an Israeli famous Rabbi to which I added 16,000 screws to elevate the art piece. I also love to create with epoxy and have started making metal sculptures which will soon be available to the public on my website. This is another material or medium that one can turn into a work of art.
Colours, patterns, materials, inspirations: in what order do you feel they matter when it comes to creating a work?
Creating art connects us all. You can get inspired and then know what material you will use and what colours will be dominant or see material and get inspired or just start painting and something amazing will come out. I like to combine a lot of elements and effects, even if they are not noticeable because in my eyes it makes the work richer.
How would you describe the pop style of art to a layman?
To me, pop art relates to everything of use, to everyday life. It is truly a style in which anything is possible. It is all about bringing life and volume to things through art.
Could you compare the Dubai art scene with that of Israel?
I think the art scene in both Dubai and Israel are quite similar, they are currently in the process of developing as more and more people show interest in various forms of art. In Dubai, as well as in Israel, art is significant and follows the story of its residents. What the two countries have in common is that every art piece you find draws some inspiration from the cultural heritage of the country, allowing everyone who consumes it to feel included and immersed in the culture.
Did you sample Arabic cuisine during your stay? Any favourites?
Certainly, there is amazing food from all over the world available here in Dubai. The Arab cuisine is reminiscent of the food I grew up eating in Tel Aviv, Israel. My favourite dishes I tasted here are Manakish and of course the amazing crunchy Kanafa.
Five things about Dubai that you highlighted in your work?
After exploring the Emirati culture and connecting with homegrown artists, I felt very much inspired to create this one-of-a-kind masterpiece highlighting the diversity of the UAE. As you will see, I took the Burj Al Arab, an iconic building with loads of character, where various cultures come together to connect, and added my street art to the building to represent unity, love, and peace, combined with the colours of Israel. I also added the Mexican wings which represent freedom, the kind of freedom you feel in Dubai. On the wings, I use the colours associated with the UAE and the symbols representing Israel to further highlight unity between both countries. Because to me, in painting anything is possible, I have also included a flying camel in the sky, honouring Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown, as an iconic symbol of the hotel.
As an artist, what would you like to do to celebrate the union between the two lands, UAE and Israel?
What I wanted to do, I just did, thanks to Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown, who allowed me to come to Dubai to connect, share, inspire, and create together. Through my live art performance, during the Peace of Art Night at the hotel, I painted people across cultures to illustrate the multicultural aspect of the UAE, a country that has welcomed me warmly.
Unity between the UAE and Israel
“Everything related to connection is blessed in my eyes. The unity between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is a welcome move which can help create a bright and cooperative future with effects on a spiritual, technological, artistic, economic, and most especially, a human level. This is the right direction towards a peaceful society on a much larger scale.”
Bridging cultures with ‘peace of art’
“I integrated two kids in the artwork, one Emirati kid introducing the UAE to an Israeli kid in the back. This is how I felt, like a kid discovering a new culture and being welcomed so warmly by the local community. Moreover, the artwork also features an old bridge and a train to symbolise a link across cultures and how the past connects to the present, respectively. Tradition and modernity are intertwined in Dubai, as well as in Israel, and I have added two figures with balloons, representing that anything is possible in the connection between people.”
Favourite stopover in Dubai and why
“Dubai is amazing, I loved everywhere I visited and the amazing people I interacted with as well as the Jewish community that hosted me warmly. If I had to pick three top destinations, it would be Alserkal Avenue for all the art galleries, La Mer, for the captivating street art and the Al Fahidi Historical District for its cultural significance. I particularly enjoyed Al Fahidi because of its traditional architecture and souks which tell an authentic and rich story of Dubai.”