6˚ of Separation: In pursuit of art and success
After Latifa Al-Darwish last time, our series comes full circle with Dana Al-Safar. Dana is a painter, writer of short stories and Assistant Producer at Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. Read about her love for life, art and her pursuit for success in everything she does.
I spent my childhood in a big family. I am the second of eight children. I lived with my grandparents, aunts and uncles in the same house. Some of my memories from the time are of me sleeping in my uncle and aunt’s room where my aunt would apply make-up on me, and of me playing video games on my uncle’s computer. I think my other siblings who live now in a separate house with only my parents are probably missing out on the experience of sharing things with everyone, not just your parents. In a joint family, there are other people who can listen to you, they can teach you and love you.
I wasn’t very interested in art until I was in university. My family didn’t encourage me to do any artistic thing either. They wanted me to study something that would have good career prospects. So, I studied Business Management and Marketing and now I work in media, which is totally different. More than a year ago, I joined the printing inscription department at the Youth Creative Art Centre. I loved it because it was different than what I learnt in school, where you take a piece of paper and paint on it with some colours. At the Centre, it’s totally different. You can try totally different materials, you can keep trying and if you are not happy with the results, then you can always come in the next day and try something else.
My grandparents were also an important part of my childhood. My grandfather was a strong and tough man, however he was completely different with us, his grandchildren. He loved us and played with us and so did my grandmother, who was very nurturing. She always cooked a lot because she expected guests at any time. When I was three or four years old, I remember standing in the kitchen, trying to help her cook during Ramadan and other times.
I began as an artist by using oil paints to paint scenes from nature like horses and birds. But now I only paint portraits using one style with the knife and various acrylic colours. This style is not very popular in this region yet, so I follow European artists such as Francoise Nielly and Voka, who have more well-defined styles. The way Nielly uses colours, what colours to combine are things I learn through watching her YouTube videos and by reading books by Voka.
My dream, since I was 15 years old, was to become a businesswoman. So that is why I wanted to study Business Management and Marketing at Qatar University, which I did. I graduated in 2012. In my final year at university, I was a trainee at QFRadio. So, when the manager of QF Radio moved to Al Jazeera Children’s Channel, he employed me there. Now, I’m an Assistant Producer of a program there.
When I began drawing at home, they thought I would draw something from Qatar in the past, or something related to nature, something real. When they saw my paintings, they were shocked and didn’t like it in the beginning. There have been others who have felt the same way. However, when they then focused on the face, they really liked the details such as the eyes and lips as well as the emotions, especially considering that I work on large-sized canvases.
I don’t like to concentrate on one thing, I like to multi-task. It’s hard, but sometimes I take a day off from work and I come to the art centre in the mornings to paint. All artists should focus on painting on what you have been inspired by. But it’s difficult to be only with art, you have to work.
I remember the Qatar of the past, when there were no skyscrapers and the roads were almost empty; there were as many cars. The positive change now is that women in Qatar have more rights and they can work in the same places as men. If you compare my life with my mother’s at the same age, she wouldn’t have been allowed to work in a TV channel. But now, even my family, while being religious, still allow me to work because the times are different now.
What I really appreciate about other countries I visit is that people follow the laws on the street and in public places. Laws are strictly enforced, pushing us to follow them. I also noticed that even if people are poor, they really take care of their country. They don’t throw waste on the street. You don’t have to be rich, you just have to change your attitude and the way you think. To me, this is how you show your love for your country – by respecting the rules and taking care of your environment.
I also write short stories, which are published in local newspapers. Women and their lives are usually the subjects of my stories and most of these are about how one thing can change the way a person thinks. Some of them are also about how something good can come from negative things.
Everyone has a goal in his or her life. For some girls, getting married and having children is their goal, but for me it’s not my first goal. I’d like to have my own family some time in the future but I have other goals before that – I’d like to see myself as a successful lady first.
When I was in school, I was a child who stayed at home and studied. But each summer when we travelled to places like Lebanon or the UK, I missed the food in Qatar. Especially when we couldn’t find a good restaurant outside. Even when we travelled outside, my mother used to cook there. I also missed wearing the abaya as I really like wearing it. We usually don’t wear it when we go abroad.
One of my favourite places in Qatar is Qatar Foundation. Before I even began working there and any time I wanted to study or felt nervous or sad, I would go to QF because they have a lot of facilities – cafés, libraries, everything. I used to go to a café and spend time there by myself to get inspired by people’s faces and emotions for new stories.