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By Maha Alsharif



Rabila Kidwai, "Pregnant Commute", 2017, Graphic Novel, 50 pages. © Rabila Kidwai.

Designer by training, artist by design, Rabila Kidwai is interested in space and the physical beings and objects that occupy it. Her journey started on a Dubai train, while commuting daily in rush hour to work and back, when she began observing women struggling to find room in confined vessels. In this shared public space, she was overwhelmed by unspoken courtesy among female passengers that she imagined made them a unit until they parted at their destinations. Kidwai’s destination, a small apartment she shared with her three sisters and mother.


Having lived in the apartment for fourteen years, she witnessed the space shrink overtime as her family grew and crowded common areas. In Apartment 108, Kidwai documents this ongoing process in a series of monochromatic ink on paper drawings, where she isolates objects, rooms, or people, placing emphasis on the negative space they have yet to occupy. When she and her family decided to move, the artist foreshadowed her nostalgia and began documenting every little detail of that space. The hundreds of drawings then naturally developed into animation videos. She explains, “I felt my work was already a narrative, that is telling a story so movement came naturally to it. I thought I could expand on this idea of expanding and shrinking in space in a video form”.

Rabila Kidwai, "Apartment 108", 2020, video animation, 00:02:10. © Rabila Kidwai

Watch video: click here

At the onset of COVID-19 and mandatory lockdown, the artist and her family had already moved to a bigger house, which she portrays in the series New Home. Kidwai uses the same medium and minimal approach, however this time in response to a new reality and newly found physical distance between her and her family members. Required to work from home during lockdown, she finally had control of the time she would previously lose commuting.


Rabila Kidwai, "Living Room", 2020, Ink on Paper, 29.7 x 14  cm. © Rabila Kidwai.


Rabila Kidwai, "Rim's Birthday", 2020, Ink on Paper, 29.7 x 14  cm. © Rabila Kidwai.

Extra time allowed her to be more involved with the local art community, in which she attended and participated in a number of virtual talks and seminars, including a closed session at “Joy of Urdu”. Though she misses the excitement of art events, time at home provided an opportunity for regular one-on-one communication with her peers, especially fellow artists at Tashkeel. She also received a grant from Art Jameel to support a new series, In a Relationship with the Fan, that was conceived during lockdown. Challenged to make the project visible and accessible, Kidwai is considering creating a visual publication, hoping it would withstand digital trends and short-lived digital archives.


Optimistic and hard at work, Kidwai believes this experience offered much needed time to dedicate to her practice and to connect with the art community. Nonetheless, it has made it all more difficult for her and other independent artists to display their works in art spaces and to get recognition. She looks forward to feedback on open call applications, at the same time is experimenting with new ways to distribute her work beyond the gallery space and digital realm.

Follow the artist:

Instagram: @rabila.kidwai

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