The pandemic has seen an unprecendented surge in creative output from around the world as people take to social media as a way to release, entertain, and spread joy. For every one person who has publicly documented their creative output, there are who knows how many people doing it privately.
The UAE has also experienced its own creative renaissance through livestreaming discussions, events and exhibitions, podcasts, and so much more.
One creative soul who’s put her own spin on things is Liethers. The 27 year old illustrator and writer is releasing her debut book Whiskey, For The Uninitiated in February 2021.
Creativity Undefined spoke to Liethers about her creative journey and her perspectives on the indie arts and culture community’s survival as we near the pandemic’s end.
Now that 2020 is behind us, how do you feel about 2021? What are your hopes for the upcoming year?
I feel more optimistic about the new year. Hoping to see an inclusive ray of hope for society. It goes without saying 2020 was a pivotal year of bated breaths waiting to breathe again and anticipating normalcy. We have sculpted new norms and I hope 2021 puts forward better opportunities to allow us to rebuild again. I haven’t lost hope in our ability as a race to rise above calamities and overcome adversities. I hope 2021 greets us with softness and prosperity.
Has the pandemic affected your creativity and/or style? Why? If yes, how?
To some degree, yes. I would describe my art style to be more of realism portraits. My art style for drawing portraits usually comes with overtones of gloomy and dark. The energy they invoked was depressing and ill-timed with the pandemic. While I still enjoy this art style, I felt that if life should decide to imitate art, this wasn’t the type of art I would like for it to draw life from. This year, I explored using more color that I wish for the patrons to absorb with the essence of beauty and hopefulness.
How do you think the creative world has changed due to the pandemic? What do you think will be different once everything goes back to “normal”?
Historically, global crises have forced society to break from the past and reimagine their world anew. 2020 gave us the gift of space to cut through our routines and the time to take up new skills and explore new arts with a new type of distraction. It certainly forged new ways we showcase and exhibit our artworks, presented new platforms we use in teaching and learning. Artists all over the world filled the need for art during one of the darkest year rifed with uncertainty and panic.
One of the biggest changes I can see coming out of the pandemic is a shift towards authenticity. Since the pandemic started, I’ve participated in one too many business calls where participants were wearing hoodies and beanies. I can see it shaping how people view working remotely becoming more normalised. I can certainly see how there seems to be a newly found freedom in self-expression and individuality.
Can you please tell us about your creative journey – when did you start writing and drawing and how has that evolved until today?
I was 15 years old (I’m 27 now), living in Abu Dhabi and stressed out with societal pressures and shoddy parttime jobs. I grew up inherently introverted and between the manic schedules and cultural norms, it was rocket science trying to express myself freely and authentically with my peers. I was going through a particularly bad time emotionally, and the only way out of it, I found, was to write my feelings down in verse. So, I began to write sporadically, with poetry as my weapon of choice.
Like most artists, I drew inspiration to sketch from comics. I grew up worshipping comic book characters and wrestlers on the tv. Sketching, to me, felt like a way to celebrate their stories within the community. I wasn’t always good at it though, it was a 10-yearlong work in continuous progress.
Where do you find inspiration? Has that been impacted by the pandemic? How? Why?
I started out with introspection and self-expression as my priorities. Poetry and drawing were therapeutic outlets that I clung to in order to cope with emotional distress. As one can expect, my works started out mostly mildly autobiographical and abstract. Sure enough, those feelings of anxiety did not last and I found myself attracted to travel, philosophy and spirituality. I was inspired to write about them as a form of appreciation and when words did not suffice, drawing did the job.
The pandemic brought about a lot of uncertainties particularly with how I go about my routine in art. Since I drew a lot of my inspiration from the expansive outdoors – the wilderness, antiquity galleries and museums, it did make it challenging at times to catch that jolt of creativity and keep motivated to create when other priorities relating to health and family are taking shape.
Taking a step back from my routine, I thought of bringing something positive, or taking on new art mediums to create something that warms the soul.
A new norm was taking shape before us, with work, with our responsibilities as individuals and as artists. We as a community were weathering a storm.
Social distancing meant, for me, that we didn’t have the physical art exhibitions, the live events, and the comic conventions for an indefinite period of time. As an artist, these are usually what keep our calendars preoccupied for the year and the year after that and so on.
One of the things that came out of the pandemic were virtual tours that allowed us to stay engaged with our friends and our patrons, and innovate ways of how we did exhibits. We initiated virtual gatherings such as museum tours of the Louvre in Paris and the Van Gogh museum. Trying not to be paralysed by the pandemic, we adapted to the resources made possible during this time and sought out ways they can be used for our art, our work and our wellbeing.
This pandemic presented an opportunity to pick up projects and activities that we sort of parked in the backburner early on. I took on a progressive approach to it – with my art style, I’ve always been more comfortable with pencil and ink portraits and urban sketches. Very monochromatic stuff. I took on digital art and played around with it to complement my art style. I also took this time to polish up my upcoming book “Whiskey For The Uninitiated” which will be a collection of my poems.
Do you work in a creative field or are your writing and illustrations an outlet for you?
I work in Aviation sans the flying. It’s an industry that can really take up a lot of your energy but rewarding at the same time. Writing and drawing are two outlets that help me stay grounded.
Who are your creative heroes? Why?
On the top of my head, they’re Rimbaud, Sexton, Wilde, Kerouac, Morrison, Dali and Hieronymus Bosch. They all offered the world new and exciting lenses to view their respective arts. Their deviation from the norms of writing/painting made bold statements without defiling the intention of the arts.
How long have you been in the UAE? What has been your experience with the creative community here?
I’ve been in the UAE since I was 5. All I can say about the creative community is it has rapidly evolved in the last few years and it is still quite young. I was around long enough to see the sort of “big bang” of the creative communities here; how we virtually forged communities out of nowhere. Personally, I take pride in being involved with a few astounding collectives that have gone above and beyond to share the knowledge, deliver the experience and mentor future artists to hone their crafts at a much smarter pace. The diversity in styles, culture and background has been remarkable in shaping the artists of UAE.
Have you participated in any arts-based events, whether something like Rooftop Rhythms or art exhibitions, whether pre-pandemic or during it? If yes, how was the experience?
I do participate in art-based events, most commonly book fairs and comic conventions for my art. I can’t say that spoken word poetry is my style but I support the cause. Rooftop Rhythms in particular has been something I tune to regularly, a few of my friends are regulars and it’s wild to see how much they’ve grown as spoken word poets.
Do you feel there is enough support for the indie creative community here? Why?
I believe we make the most out of what we have but it’s still a growing community. We are lucky to now have modern and cultural platforms to express our craft, it took us a while to get here but we’re far from where we want to be. I hope there were more platforms to shine light to the unsung indie creatives who don’t categorically fall under the more popular curation of art seen today.
What more do you think can be done?
It can start with something as simple as featuring the works of local indie artists in malls or culture hubs, utilising poetry in marketing and promotional campaigns, investing in poetry readings that are not spoken/performance poetry or making events more affordable for artists to showcase their crafts.
You established your account in April 2020 and have already amassed a great following. How was your journey and how do you feel about it?
I have to say I’m quite humbled and thrilled by the engagements I got in such a short amount of time on social media. I’m overwhelmed with joy to have been connected with such a diverse community united by a shared passion for poetry and art.
What was the inspiration behind its name?
“We The Mythical” is a nod to my collectivism perspective in art and writing. It sort of acknowledges our capacity to achieve feats larger than life through storytelling, music and art pulled out of the most mundane and unlikely places. We are mythical in that grand sense.
What do you think it says about online support for artists vs offline support?
It speaks volumes about how our online presence does influence support both online and offline. Visibility online is no longer considered to be an add-on; it is the starting ground for where you attract your patrons and supporters globally as well as regionally. All I can say about the difference in online and offline support and interactions is the intimacy. As wide as the range of the global online supporters can be, nothing replaces offline engagements. There’s something soul-warming about someone discussing their favourite artworks of mine with the understanding and emotions which I aspired to invoke.
Tell us about your upcoming book “Whiskey, For The Uninitiated”.
Whiskey, For The Uninitiated will be out in February 2021. It is a collection of poetry and illustrations that got me through the pandemic and I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it. It will be available in select bookstores in the UK, US and UAE, and internationally on Amazon.com. It will also be sold at the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in May 2021.
It was quite daunting and overwhelmed by the intricacy of the process. I was wrong to think that writing and proofreading were the hardest part of publishing. As important as the content is, marketing and promoting the book is an art on its own. I’m grateful for those who’ve gone above and beyond to show their support and enthusiasm about the book.
What was the inspiration for it and its title? What do you hope people take away from it?
Using whiskey as a metaphor for poetry, I describe it as an instrument which amplifies the beauty of ordinary language, giving them reverence and splendor. The selected poems and prose in this book do not intend to mirror life experiences but rather illuminate them. If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to momentarily return us to childhood, to our uninitiated selves – that state where all of the senses are open to new languages, philosophies, or sounds.
Have you released any other works?
This would be my debut poetry book. My works have been published in local publications, artbooks, journals and poetry anthologies but this will be the first that will be entirely mine.
You’re also an illustrator. Can you please describe your style and how it differs from other illustrators?
I adjust my illustration style depending on the theme and genre of the books I’m commissioned to do and how the authors envision the visuals to complement the verbal imagery in their stories. Since I’m also doing the illustrations for “Whiskey, For The Uninitiated”, I applied an art style similar to single-line art and journalistic urban sketches. The intent is to provide visuals that complement the poems without taking away the focus from the words.
Do you plan on working on additional projects? If yes, can you please provide some information?
I do. For now, I’m working on a few collaborations and anthology books. I will be exhibiting and conducting workshops at book fairs locally throughout the year together with my lifelong artist friends, Sammie Bayogos and Heart Famadico.