Arts & Culture The Arab Art Issue

The Khaleeji animator spreading joy in this crisis

Kuwaiti animator Sulaiman Al Zuhair is on a special mission these days.

.للقراءة بالعربية انقروا هنا

By Dana Al Rashid

Sulaiman Al Zuhair is an animator and visual artist from Kuwait. In case you’ve missed it, his animated collaborations with Kuwaiti actor and performer, Bashar Al Jazzaf have taken the internet by storm. His works on paper currencies has also been featured in the Cash is King: The Art of Defaced Banknotes book and was displayed and sold in Saatchi gallery in London as part of a group show. A versatile artist with the ability to create different styles and moods, we interview this artist to find out more about him and his current creative projects.

 I realize many people don’t like this question, but could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: I hate bios so much, but okay. I’m a Kuwaiti artist with a background in graphic design, who is interested in learning and exploring new forms of visual art such as illustration, comics, a little bit of 3D and animation. I’m currently focusing on animation, illustration and a little bit of design.

I am curious if you have studied animation academically, as you are very skilled. Are you self-taught or did you take animation classes?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: I studied graphic design in university but I think I learned more watching free tutorials on the internet and reading books and magazines in my free time. So I’m pretty much self-taught. I have been watching tutorials on YouTube and trying to apply what I have learned. The 12 principles of animation by Alan Becker is a great place to start for anyone interested in animation.

A Ramadan animation by Sulaiman Al Zuhair, in collaboration with Bashar Al Jazzaf.

Tell us more about your latest collaborations with Kuwaiti actor Bashar Al Jazzaf . How have they been received?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair:  The purpose of these animations was to make people happy during these difficult times by providing something new and different, as well as a strategic step to receive exposure as an artist. There is very little animated work in the region let alone work that mixes original music and animation simply to spread joy on social media.

For the most part, people seemed to really enjoy the art and animation even though it was super rushed ( I spent less than a week on each of them). Some people seemed to think the animation was too provocative from some of the comments I read on Twitter. I don’t have twitter but I peaked at Bashar’s timeline to see people’s reaction. But the majority of the response was positive, I’d say.

Prior to your animation collaborations with Bashar Al Jazzaf, you did mini animation loops with music by @internetfase on Instagram . Can you tell us about these mini animations?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: @internetfase is my brother, and he does music production as a hobby. I started doing collaborations with him mostly for practice and portfolio-building. From that I got contacted by Bashar who I collaborated with on two songs; the Ramadan and Eid songs. Recently I have animated an advertisement with him for Bee Protection Car Wash Company, with the sound also by my brother.

However, he is more low-key and his account is private. I try to convince him to put more music into the world and see what comes from it, and the results have been great so far as he has also made the music for Bashar’s Eid music video.

Your Banknote art has was very well received and was featured in London, could you please tell me more about it?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: It’s art on money, basically. You start with a piece of cash and see where you can take it. Generally, I try to inject some meaning either surrounding the country/subject of the bill, or I flip it into something completely ridiculous just for fun. I met an artist online that was doing money art and I thought it was a cool idea, so we became friends and he encouraged me to give it a shot so I did and I liked it. 

We kept doing it and I tried to get a local gallery to display the work here in Kuwait but no one seemed interested and then I got a call from a British artist called Bob Osborne who was putting a book together, Cash is King: The Art of Defaced Banknotes. He wanted to put a few of my pieces in the book and have them displayed in London’s Saatchi Gallery.

You are a full-time freelance artist. How has your experience been freelancing in Kuwait?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: It varies from client to client. With some, the experience is a real pleasure because they genuinely trust and value my work and opinion. With others it’s a bit more of a challenge to come to an agreement on things. One of the lessons I’ve learned that’s helped me in this process is making sure to spend the necessary time to figure out and fulfill the client’s needs rather than try to sell them my personal vision of things.

An Eid animation by Sulaiman Al Zuhair, in collaboration with Bashar Al Jazzaf.

Has the pandemic affected your work flow? If so, how?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair:  Not much, only minimally with things like the lack of printing facilities. But generally speaking, my workflow hasn’t really been affected. If anything, it’s made me hunker down and focus on expanding my skills since there isn’t much else to do lately.

What do you think of social media as a platform to showcase artwork?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: I think it’s necessary because a lot of people seem to spend a decent amount of time on social media, so it’s a good way to quickly reach your audience and potential new clients. It also has opened up doors to collaborations and meeting people with similar interests. I think as long as you don’t get caught up with numbers and just focus on putting out good work, it can be rewarding. For me, it’s been a lucrative platform, although I do feel that I perhaps rely too heavily on it and would like to showcase my work in the real world a little bit more than I currently do.

Various illustrations by Sulaiman Al Zuhair. Courtesy. Click on each to enlarge it.

What motivates you to keep working despite the uncertain times we’re currently in?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: The motivation to work definitely fluctuates, but what generally drives me is the feeling of accomplishment I get when I’m looking down at a finished piece of work. Being able to transform a thought into a physical manifestation that’s capable of touching people on a mental or emotional level is a rewarding feeling.

What is your advice for artists who want to go completely independent and fully freelance in Kuwait?

 Sulaiman Al Zuhair: Figure out what you like to do and get good at it. Use the internet to find the mentors you want to learn from and absorb everything you can find from them. Make sure to spend ample time applying what you learn into practice. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll be able to turn your passion into a fulfilling career.

Another piece of advice I’d give is to ask for advice and feedback from people whose work you admire. There’s so much free knowledge on the Internet, and social media is full of talented people willing to share their expertise with you if you know how to ask the right questions.

An animation by Sulaiman Al Zuhair, in collaboration with @internetfase.

Do you have any future projects that you can tell us about?

Sulaiman Al Zuhair: I’m currently working on a couple of animated ads with some talented voice actors that I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time. I can tell you that one of the projects will also be with Bashar Al Jazzaf. Besides that, I’m also directing a rebranding project for a local manufacturing company in Kuwait, and in my free time I’m doing some commissioned artwork to raise money for people that have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns.

To view more of Sulaiman Al Zuhair’s work, visit his Instagram account.

Dana Al Rashid is a Kuwaiti writer and artist. She has a weekly column in Al Jarida Newspaper, and she also writes and illustrates for several independent magazines.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

This article has been translated from Arabic.