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Get to Know Brilliant Saudi Artist Nujood Al-Otaibi

The Saudi artist’s work shows disabilities don’t curb creativity and shouldn’t be a barrier to success.

Freelance creative artist and designer Nujood Al-Otaibi’s artistic skills and abilities were fostered from an early age. Her father, also an artist, didn’t hesitate in encouraging her to draw, while a hearing disability, which she has had since the age of five, helped deepen her appreciation of visuals even more.

With time, the Jeddah-based Al-Otaibi, who now wears hearing aids, began finding inspiration in the hyperrealist movement. The artist had the chance to explore her passion for hyperrealism while earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Milwaukee’s University of Wisconsin. However, the 33-year-old, who specialised in Digital Arts, makes sure to expand her wings by exploring other styles of painting.

Saudi Arabia now has an increasingly tolerant and inclusive atmosphere, largely thanks to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan, which empowers people with disabilities and encourages them to participate in shaping the country’s future. This, plus the Kingdom’s strong creative reawakening, has helped Al-Otaibi’s artistic career thrive. The artistic freedom has allowed her to open up about her own struggles, including issues like social stigma, and she has been able to display self-reflections influenced by her hearing loss.

In 2019, Al-Otaibi participated in Athr Gallery’s “Young Saudi Artists” exhibition. Curated by Zahra Dar Bundakji, the Jeddah expo was about understanding the rapid social changes occurring in the country and their effects on a collective and individual level. Plus, most recently, the Mecca-born Al-Otaibi, who first studied English as a second language while living in the US, was an Artist in Residence during the Masaha Residency, a three-month multi-faceted residency programme by Riyadh’s Misk Institute. While “Synesthesia,” one of the three pieces displayed, is acrylic and oil on canvas, another one is the same on mirror. Al-Otaibi’s perceptual sense allows her to see voices in blue and In these two paintings, the colour reigns supreme. During an interview, Al-Otaibi explains the hue deepens as the voice gets louder and gets lighter as the voice becomes quieter.

“The last week of my residency at Misk I worked so hard to make this research a reality and in the last two days before the show I didn’t sleep I was so excited to show you how I see things differently than I hear it,” she said on Instagram about her series of paintings, which include a charcoal on paper artwork.

While creating her self-reflection works with their strange dreamy worlds, the artist features details like words written in charcoal over and over again, darkened windows and angled ceilings and walls. A painting showcased in Athr Gallery included a hollow pink headscarf that surrounds a deep blue void in place of a face and her ear in different objects. Indeed, her introspective work during the last couple of years all seem to hint of the social isolation people living with a disability can feel.

“I never expected that one day I would showcase my artwork representing my disability,” Al-Otaibi, who is influenced by painters like Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, told “Arab News.”

The artist who is also behind “The Heart of the Kingdom,” an oil on canvas illustrating the Saudi flag scrunched into the shape of a heart and set against a black background, feels blessed. And that’s why she makes sure to give back and inspire those in need. Al-Otaibi has worked with children with disabilities to help them believe in themselves and reach their goals. As well as being a Teaching Assistant and volunteering as Substitute Teacher at the American International School of Jeddah, she has stepped up at KABOOM!, which works with communities to build kid-designed play spaces that help children thrive wherever they live. She is also associated with e-Nable Sweden, a company that makes free 3D printed hand prosthetics. 

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