I design my life


By Amrina Qaisar

Maria Iqbal is an Afghan-American artist based in the UAE. The world is her canvas; she creates and transforms everything from chairs to handbags, walls and clothes. Her designs spell out a new language of high-end art pieces that span traditional shapes and forms and cannot be neatly labeled or contained. Materials are only limited by the imagination and include locally sourced leather, custom printed textiles, canvas, plastic, wood, paints, and even the humble pencil.

Born in Kabul and raised in Dubai by her traditional Afghan family, Maria grew up with Bollywood films, Japanese anime, larger-than-life icons, and inspirations gleamed from the melting pot of cultures that bring her adopted city to life. She received a Bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and a graduate degree in Art Direction from Miami Ad School before going on to a high-powered career as an art director at prominent advertising agencies in Chicago and a unique year in Mumbai.

Maria's heart remained attached to art, and after her inspirational stint in India, she moved back home to Dubai in 2011 and founded Maria Iqbal Art. Maria's designs have become recognized in the region's design and fashion circles and highlighted in numerous publications including VOGUE (India). She was also nominated for the 2014 Emirates Woman of the Year award for her unique contribution to the region's arts and culture scene.

Maria's work can be discovered in various fashion and lifestyle boutiques, art galleries, and specialty design spaces. Occasionally she conducts pop-up workshops and events, on site installations for well-known brands, or engages in collaborations with fashion houses, design showrooms, and galleries.

The designer's playful studio in the heart of Dubai is an explosion of colors, textiles, and concepts. Her creations are functional works of hand painted art, deeply influenced by pop culture, irreverent humor, travel, and societal trends. Although she is no longer an advertising art director in the big city, Maria's creations send eye-catching messages in a clever, snappy way and are constantly evolving to reflect our fast-paced, consumer-centric world.

Each of Maria's functional creations represents a conversation between the designer and the collector. Many of her favorite pieces have come as a result of bespoke commissions by fashion houses, design showrooms, global brands, or fashionable individuals. Maria loves the challenge of hearing a collector's simple idea and transforming a color, shape, or need into an all-consuming vision.

"I love to make things that tell a story."

It began with an antique chair gathering dust in the corner of an attic. I stripped and sanded the frame and gave it a new coat of paint. Then many more colors started screaming ME! ME! ME! The old, drab upholstery discarded, a new seat took its place like a beautiful dress. There was depth, and so many more interactive possibilities. Bold, refreshing and much more satisfying than working on a two dimensional canvas! I sat on this chair, and became transformed too. Thus began my love affair with painting on and repurposing surfaces non-traditionally, while at the same time sustaining the inherent beauty within.

I believe that design should represent your individual style. If you want to live a unique life, surround yourself with objects and fashion that tell your story - from the bed that you sleep on every night, to the bag you'll carry to a special event. As a former advertising creative, I naturally think in slogans and am attracted to words, humor, and faces that are famous in popular culture. I can't help but smile at the idea of wearable, fully functional art that is part of the human experience and does not belong in a sterile gallery.

In the attempt to live a unique life, there are no limits. The journey has just begun, and I look forward to the unexpected juxtapositions that await and surprise us.

Q: Life has beautiful shortcomings and amazing new ventures for a person what doyou think has been the best tool to analyses this?

A: Be grateful for what life has to offer and never give up. There’s nothing to fear except fear itself. Sometimes things happen to you that you feel sad about and then you realize that it was the best thing to happen to you. So don’t analyze. Just go with the flow. God will take care.

Q: Your paintings speak of different subjects and questions do you inter-relate while you paint or just conquer your mind what’s coming out of brush?

A: It depends. Sometimes I allow the brush to do what it wants and the idea flows without thinking. However, I usually plan what I want to do in advance and make research, sketches and pre planning. The world is my canvas and I love to tell stories through my art; I paint and transform everything from furniture to handbags, walls and clothes.

Q: Do you think you convey a real image of your art in respect to your personality and believe how long have you been in this customized setup of your mindset

A: Yes I paint what I love. I like to make people happy and with customized commissions, I work with client to make sure we both are happy with the end result.

Q: Sky is the limit if given a chance to spread your brush what extreme idea will you do and where”

A: I would love to collaborate with big brands and get the message out to a bigger audience. I want to work with global hotels, restaurants, and product designers. I want my art in all aspects of design, much like Phillipe Starck

Q: Very vivid and very wild and bold colors has been noticed in your paintings do you think this adds some positive note to your paintings?

A: Of course! I am inspired by Pop art and culture. My work is bold, and grabs attention. I love to entertain and express myself because I want to show people to be happy and be themselves.

Q: The journey so far has been remarkable, you were able to justify and satisfied your clients, what message you wish to give your readers who are somehow totally not fully aware?

A: I want to convey the message that Art is beautiful, healing and can change how you feel. It can tell stories, and keep moments alive forever. You can wear art, and have it displayed in your home in different ways — through furniture, décor and in small ways. Art doesn’t have to be only paintings. My creations are functional works of hand painted art, deeply influenced by pop culture, irreverent humor, travel, and societal trends. It is art that you can live and interact with on a daily basis. The person who wants a Maria Iqbal piece already knows what they are getting into — A crazy, unique and bespoke creation with high fashion accents.

Q: Did any time in your initial stages you felt that if you lose to convey what you are inspire of what you will do?

A: There is always fear that people will not like your art and might not understand where I am coming from. I had to first discover my own voice, before inspiring others. When others see that you are happy and successful, that is how to inspire — by being, not telling them.

Q: You play with paints, did anytime in your work you felt colors convey many messages and make your art more creative and classy, highlight?

A: I love to play with lots of colors because every hue evokes a different emotion. However, I also keep things simple with only a small pop of bright color to catch your eye. Sometimes this can be more powerful than a canvas full of color.

Q: According to your experience what you think, any eye which can differentiate colors can be an artist within themselves or no?

A: It has to be the self belief of the person, to think different and deeply. Every eye has an imagination towards colors, relating everything with passion can make wonders in once journey of life

Q: Artists are one of the key to philosophies, what your opinion in this?

A: Artists are thinkers, seekers and philosophers. Artists make us see the world differently and appreciate things in a different way. Artists are not only painters, but poets, actors, singers, are all artists.

Q: Where you wish to stand after 5 years down the line?

A: I want to be known globally as the first Afghan woman artist to emerge from my country and inspire other women to be strong and empowered. I want to be the next Zaha Hadid in Art and design.