Saudi Artist Nahla Ghafaili: ‘Painting…is Like Medicine to Me’

Saudi Artist Nahla Ghafaili: ' Like Medicine to Me'

Sometimes we find inspiration when we hear a new song or experience a wild dream. 

Other times new ideas come when we least expect them, as one Saudi artist found during the coronavirus lockdown.

Nahla Ghafaili decided to paint away her boredom during the curfew but soon ran out of canvases, so decided to paint on everyday objects in her home — even items of furniture.

The owner of Eleven Art and Gallery Cafe in Jeddah dislikes rules that limit her creative potential.

“I had a lot of experience in different forms of art and I would look up different art forms that I could try on the internet,” she said.

For many artists, the lockdown has been a struggle, while others found a silver lining to the pandemic. In Ghafaili’s case, it was her home and the artistic potential she saw in its contents.

Ghafaili took a while to perfect her process, using different techniques on surfaces including furniture, walls, carpets, bags and sculptures already in the home.

Whenever she uploaded a video of her furniture paintings, people online told her not to “ruin” them. But the artist persevered because “it gave such great results.”

Ghafaili said she learned to paint as a child and drew inspiration from her father, who hoped she would be interested enough to develop a career out of the hobby.

The 39-year-old painter rekindled her passion for art in 2016, after “spending 12 years without touching a color pencil.”

Ghafaili said: “I fell into depression. At that time I was facing a lot of issues in my life. So I decided to get back into painting. Painting and drawing is like medicine to me. When I draw, I stop thinking and I’m in another world.”

However, the artist kept her work to herself. “It was a part of me. I only started selling my paintings to people who I knew would cherish them the same way I do,” she said.

Ghafaili still views painting as a form of therapy, and enjoys letting her creative instincts take over. That was the basis of her work on furniture, while her cafe and gallery follow the same principle. She said she never plans before painting.

The artist told Arab News that many art galleries were reluctant to accept her work because of its “out-of-the-box” style, so she decided to open her own.

She described her Jeddah gallery as an open space for artists unconstrained by rules and regulations.

“I wanted to combine my art with something else, so I chose coffee as it is a perfect medium for social gatherings. The cafe is open for everyone, including new artists and experienced painters. Even people who have no interest in art can come for coffee.”

She wants to spread the concept of her cafe across the Kingdom, inspiring artists and sending a message that boundaries should never define art.

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