Game Changers The Arab Art Issue

Hanan Kamal: I don’t like to be confined to one space, so I excelled in graffiti art

Meet this young Saudi graffiti artist.

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By Wafaa Khairy

Hanan Kamal, a 27-year-old multitalented Saudi artist, began her journey into graffiti art in 2007. At a young age, she has garnered numerous achievements in this field. She has participated in and represented Saudi in a wall art festival in which she, along with her colleagues, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest graffiti drawing in 2014. She has also participated in local and international contests, including the local contest “Athir wa Ta’athar” in 2008, and secured top places.

Hanan has also helped pave the way for the upcoming generation of graffiti artists and has helped attract the attention of the country to this art form. She is currently also conducting workshops and providing support for those wishing to learn this art. We speak to Hanan Kamal about her artistic journey in the world of graffiti.

Why graffiti despite possessing a number of other artistic talents?

Hanan Kamal: I like art in all its forms; singing, music, painting, and acting. Ever since I was a child, my artistic talent started with drawing and my parents encouraged me to develop it. When I grew up, I felt that paper didn’t provide a big enough space for my talent. It’s small and confined. That’s why I started thinking about graffiti murals, because they’re bigger and similar to what I was looking for since I don’t like to feel confined when making art.

How did those around you react to your decision?

Hanan Kamal: Like anything unfamiliar or uncommon in its beginnings, my parents couldn’t comprehend it right away. But with time, they accepted it and let me be. Society, on the other hand, was more intense since its preconception about this form of art was that it was masculine, and so seeing a girl standing in the street and painting on walls was alien to them. I heard a lot of negative comments, but I don’t blame them for them. What I did was alien to them at the time.

Hanan Kamal aims to empower women through her graffiti art. Image: Courtesy.

How did you start your first graffiti?

Hanan Kamal: I’m considered one of the very few women who have pursued this field, which is the reason why I faced criticism and disapproval from society. However, this is not the case for current artists because this form of art has been legalized. At first, I decided to paint on one of our neighborhood streets as an experiment. Pedestrians were astonished by what I was doing and stared a lot, thinking I was a foreigner. I felt really uncomfortable because I was the center of everyone’s attention in the street. However, it pushed me forward and made me more persistent.

The time I grabbed the spray can for the very first time, I felt overwhelmed with happiness. I felt that I wanted to do it all the time. It was an overwhelming sense of happiness, love of art, and life. Through it, I can paint freely, anywhere and anytime. And, indeed, after that, I started painting on cars.

What happened to your graffiti works after you completed them?

Hanan Kamal: Unfortunately, they were painted over with white paint. It made me really sad. But remember, graffiti wasn’t legalized at the time. Although my art was, in some way, considered illegal, I still felt sad because I would see other graffiti made by boys that weren’t being erased, whereas mine were being painted over because I’m a girl.

Hanan Kamal also paints on cars. Image: Courtesy.

What do you express in your graffiti?

Hanan Kamal: Graffiti serves different purposes in general. However, I use it to reflect my thoughts and imagination in an artistic way. My graffiti includes environmental concepts that revolve around saving oceans and the planet. I also paint to express the empowerment of girls. Generally speaking, I reflect the ideas that make our world better.

What challenges did you face during your career?

Hanan Kamal: I think the biggest challenge that anyone can face in their artistic career is themselves. No one can stop you except yourself. You can leave your comfort zone and face the world if you wanted to, and you can declare your defeat and stop everything; only you can make yourself do that. I also faced some external challenges such as the disapproval of society, or the power of law in the beginning. It never stopped me though, but rather pushed me forward until the government started taking our art seriously and provided us with our designated spaces.

Did you expect to reach this level of success?

Hanan Kamal: When I entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2014, I wasn’t surprised as that was my goal from the very beginning. I started in a field of art that was devoid of female presence, and I was part of the first generation that established this art in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That’s why I was confident that I had the whole future in front of me. I didn’t stop there; I started working with a number of renowned international brands, in addition to participating and winning many local and international contests. I believe there’s still room for more achievements.

“I paint to prove that men and women are equal”

Hanan Kamal

Do you see yourself leaving graffiti one day?

Hanan Kamal: I would never leave graffiti, music, or art in general. I’m delivering a message and influencing people through my talent. I just want to inspire more and more people through art and music and give support to those who need it.

How does Saudi society perceive graffiti?

Hanan Kamal: When I started, many people criticized me because they considered this type of art to be masculine. I was totally against that notion, so I called myself “Pink In”, which empowers women in my opinion. I paint to prove that men and women are equal, and that they can do anything. I also paint to inspire girls to achieve their dreams and prove themselves, wherever they are. But with time, society has become more accepting and understanding of seeing females doing graffiti.

How do you support graffiti in Saudi Arabia at the moment?

Hanan Kamal: I work on conducting workshops for talents with the help of my friends, thus, helping increase the number of painters in the Kingdom. When I was young, I used to go to places dedicated to teaching, drawing, and supporting talents, and from there, I met a lot of like-minded artists and we became more encouraged to express our art. We also helped others and held events and participated in contests. But that was in the past, before we received support from the government and achieved artistic gender equality.

Hanan Kamal calls herself “Pink In”. Image: Courtesy.

Having entered the Guinness Book of World Records, what is your next aspiration?

Hanan Kamal: Currently, I am considered part of the first generation to introduce this art in the Kingdom and I know that my name will be remembered as one of its founders. However, this is not enough since I want to inspire more and more people through my art. I aspire to become an ambassador of art, and to support all girls and talents to reach and fulfill their dreams, regardless of their gender.

What is your message for artists?

Hanan Kamal: Never stop dreaming, get out of your comfort zone, accept your fears and challenges, and don’t be afraid to break stereotypes. Art is a noble message and it must reach everyone. Moreover, utilize the talents you have, as you never know how much influence you can make through art.

Wafaa Khairy is an Egyptian journalist who is interested in cultural and women’s affairs.

This article has been translated from Arabic.

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.