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Shadi Al-Atallah: BA Illustration Alumni, BBZ BLK BK Collective and Kanye West Collaboration


Written by
Grizelda Kitching
Published date
09 October 2018

Shadi Al-Atallah was born and grew up in Saudi Arabia. Since graduating from Camberwell College of Arts BA Illustration in summer 2018 Shadi has been busy! As well as currently studying a postgraduate course at The Royal College of Art, Shadi was recently scouted and commissioned by Kanye West’s creative team to produce artwork for two of his latest singles. She has also been involved with BBZ, BBZ BLACK BOOK, is an online directory of QUEER WOMXN, trans folk and non-binary artists of Black Ancestry.  It highlights the importance of the digital space and how it has influenced this community around the world, off and online.

An abstract painting of a nude woman
Painting by Shadi Al-Atallah

Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to study at Camberwell?

I did a Foundation and I was based in Camberwell. I got interested in communications and found, through online research, that Camberwell  had a reputation for being one of the best illustration courses. My tutors at foundation encouraged me to so I decided to go for it, I had applied to all UAL colleges, but I liked the area and the kind of homely feel to the place, so I wanted to continue studying there.

Describe your art/design practice now?

At this moment in time, I’m focused on making paintings, most of which are large scale (around 2 meters or 3 meters in width and height) on un-stretched canvas. I began experimenting with that in my last year of Illustration at Camberwell. My last series which I had done for my degree show was called ‘Catharsis’ and it was formed of a series of paintings depicting distorted versions of myself and my body, it was a little dark, but also playful. I was exploring the ideas of release and its connections to mental health, racial and sexual identities and linking them back to the spiritual practices passed down by Afro-Arab ancestors.

Gallery view of two paintings hanging on a dark blue wall.
Works by Shadi Al-Atallah

Your current postgraduate study at Royal College of Art:

I chose a different route, painting.  Studying a Fine Art subject is a completely different approach to a design subject like illustration. I’m still getting used to the ‘art speak’ and very conceptual ideas that I didn’t explore as much during my time doing illustration.

How did you become to be involved in BBZ BLK BK Collective / sorry you feel uncomfortable collective?

I saw their call out for Queer artists of Black ancestry. It was little too late, as it had passed the deadline, but I was lucky that they extended it and I managed to write the proposal last minute. It was my first time writing a proposal, so I found it intimidating, although I was confident about my work, I was sceptical about my proposal-writing skills.

An abstract blue, black, white and yellow painting of a woman.
Painting by Shadi Al-Atallah

You were one of ten selected to exhibit at the Alternative Graduation show that took place in July in Peckham. How was this experience? 

The experience was really meaningful, aside from networking, I think I felt proud to be in that very radical and warm space. I enjoyed meeting the other artists and curators and networking with them as I barely personally knew any QTPOCs in the arts context. I got a lot of positive feedback in real life and a lot on social media as well, I think the media coverage also really helped in that sense.

Explain the importance of having a platform for QTPOC (Queer and Trans people of colour) artists?

I think the importance goes beyond just exposure and publicity. It’s about being visible and feeling a sense of belonging. Having a platform makes you feel like it’s worth the work you put into the art you create. A lot of the time artists from marginalised communities feel like their work goes into the void, but having a platform means it’s seen and the more its seen the more artists feel encouraged and valid.

How powerful is Social Media as a platform for events and topics like this?

It’s very powerful. A lot of the time, social media is where communities are created nowadays. They allow people to congregate even in inaccessible spaces and situations.

Painting of a woman holding a cleaning product.
‘Dirts Out’, Shadi Al-Atallah

Do you feel the exhibition has shaped or supported your practice?

Definitely! I’m very grateful for the exhibition, and for the space that was lead by young black queer creatives. It was a beautiful experience that I feel has given me the guidance and support I needed. It was a celebration of everyone that was a part of the show and their work. I would say it shaped the direction I’m going in now and it’s given me a platform bigger than I had expected.

Soon after graduating from Camberwell you produced the artwork for Kanye West’s single. This must have been surreal? How did this come about!? 

It’s very surreal! How this came about, I’ll never know, but it was a month after the Alternative Graduate Show, so it must have been through one of the articles written about it. I was contacted directly by the creative team for the XTCY cover, which I was briefed to base off the Kardashian/Jenner’s photo and then again for the I Love It cover; Kanye provided inspiration for the colour scheme from Kerry James Marshall paintings, which I was happy about, since he’s definitely in my top 5 favourite painters and I draw inspiration from his work in terms of colour.

A painting of five women sitting in a club.
‘XTCY’ Artwork by Shadi Al-Atallah

It’s very exciting and unexpected, and it does put extra pressure on you, but it’s also just very fun. I had the most fun designing the images used on the Porn Hub Awards merchandise.

Do you have an artist influence?

I’m influenced by so many things: internet culture, memes, stolen artefacts at the British Museum and my own personal experiences with relationships, daily life with Bipolar Disorder and my family history. In terms of artists, Kerry James Marshall, Samuel Fosso, Hassan Hajjaj, Kara Walker, Shadi Ghadirian, Francis Bacon, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami and a lot of figurative artists, because that’s the artwork that draws me. Mostly, I’m influenced by new art created by so many great emerging queer artists of colour, which is what I find most exciting at the moment.

Related Links:

BA Illustration


BZ BLK BK Collective