Bahrain-born and Dubai-raised, Ali El Shehabi is a young artist, fresh on the scene, and already part of the movement that is marking Dubai as a growing contemporary art contender. Though he is new to both photography and music, he has exhibited an obvious tact for both mediums.
Shehabi first became interested in photography in 2016, after suffering an unfortunate accident that left him bed-ridden, heavily handicapped by casts for an extended period. The internet introduced him to the medium, and he decided that photography was something that he wanted to pursue. Lucky for him, his mother had a couple of functioning film cameras tucked away among her old belongings - and thus Ali got his start.
Shehabi’s strict use of 35mm film cameras, conveniently sourced from his mother, lends his work a timelessness, at once nostalgic and contemporary. This goes both ways, as his interest in nostalgia educates his choice to deal strictly with film, which he believes to “bring out that effect more to the viewer.”
people are blinded by media towards Arab culture
Along with nostalgia, his primary source for content is Arab culture, which he believes to be misunderstood by the outside world. The bulk of Shehabi’s work veers towards portraiture, showing people in traditional garb posed in modern settings; supermarkets, for example. Shehabi incorporates still life elements as well, posing his subjects with props such as birds, BMX bikes, and eggplants. “[You have] full control of creative direction, hence if I work on a project that tells a story, that's the only way to do it. When candid, it has its own story to tell,” Shihabi says of portraiture.
Aside from the Arab world, Tokyo surfaces in Shehabi’s work, a city that has had a great influence on him. In fact, living in Tokyo helped him “realize how people are blinded by media towards [Arab] culture,” pushing him to counter that with stronger imagery. His method for shooting in Japan differed from his approach at home. There, he worked mostly with candid and street photography. “It’s something very common in the streets, so people are used to it. Of course, it’s done with a smile, eye contact, a greeting, and then asking for permission,” he explains.
Ali also makes music, and recently released an album under the name Evataro. Though he has only been producing for less than a year, hearing colors/seeing flavors is his second release as a beat maker. “It all started with me listening to a beat tape of lo-fi chill hop music when studying, working etc. I told myself ‘I can do this,’” he says. His calm and cool tracks are reminiscent of artists like Flying Lotus and Onra, the latter of which he cites as a big influence. In some cases, when artists practice two drastically different mediums, for example photography and producing, they influence each other. In Ali’s case, they do not; they are two different sides of him.
Ali has certainly established himself as someone worthy of a following. Anyone who views Shehabi’s photography finds his world tenderly and beautifully exposed, brimming with noticeable aesthetic intention. There is a sensitivity and vulnerability in his images, as well as an honesty that hasn’t failed to bring controversy upon him in the Arab world. For example, one of his photos shows a young man nearly undressed, sitting aside a chair beside an open Qur’an and a hanging dishdasha – a picture recreating Shehabi’s image of his father getting dressed in the morning. His music equally exudes a melancholy and calm sensitivity. When asked what the theme of a movie sound tracked by his music would be, he answered “heartbreak.”
Check out Ali Shehabi's on SoundCloud and Instagram @AliShehaabi