Artist Nada Ali saw her creativity stifled by the trauma of Syria’s war, but relocating to Sweden to take part in a leadership programme helped put her career back on track.
When everything’s a matter of life and death, art is more often deployed than enjoyed. Nada Ali has witnessed this transformation first-hand.
“Syrian artists have become burdened with big questions - the meaning of freedom, dignity, justice and life,” Nada Ali tells The Local Voices.
And as the Syrian art world became more and more politicized against a wartime backdrop, her own creativity dried up.
“Everyone needs time to rehabilitate from the trauma of losing relatives and close friends, the trauma of forced change. As one of the many Syrians exposed to this, I was unable to draw,” says the 28-year-old fine arts graduate. “The environment confined me psychologically, and left me unable to translate what I truly feel.”
In 2012 she contributed to an art project in Damascus about the role of media in the social movements gathering pace at the time. It was to be her last project in Syria.
The move to Sweden
Soon thereafter she moved to Jordan to work as an executive director at a cultural centre in Amman. In addition to her main responsibilities organizing events and curating workshops, Ali started a side project: developing an environmental art concept to renovate an archaeological site in the Jordanian capital using solid waste.
“I applied with a proposal of the idea to the Swedish Institute and won a scholarship to take part in a leadership programme in Stockholm where I can train my skills as a social entrepreneur and build a professional network.”
The She Entrepreneurs programme gave her a strong grounding in business and improved her leadership skills, she says.
“Moving to Sweden has been an important step to re-build my future.”
She devoted a lot of time and effort into developing the idea of creating sellable artworks from trash, but then she put the project on hold: she wanted to rediscover her love of painting.
From traditional to digital art
She combined her painting with taking courses in Swedish as a second language. She also kept in touch with the Swedish Institute. A contact there recommended she check out Hyper Island, the Stockholm-based creative business school. And so began the process of fusing her analog past with the digital future.
“The Motion Creative program at Hyper Island was everything I needed to enter the motion pictures industry, where I found my new career.”
Inspired by the school’s ethos of learning-by-doing, she soon found a fresh creative impulse in digital art.
“Even though I’d always been attracted to traditional art I am very excited at having jumped onto the digital wave where I can both have a sustainable career and follow my passion.”
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'I dream of a world without borders’
Now Ali has established herself as a concept artist and feels very much at home in Sweden, a country whose values she believes largely mirror her own.
“I simply don’t believe in nationality. My relation to my homeland is not about geography or borders, it’s about people and memories; it’s a history of sentimental relations that transcends geography,” says Ali.
“Whether I hold a Syrian or a Swedish passport doesn't define me. I live on this planet which we all belong to and need to look at as one big home.”