Saudi Street Artist & Biologist shares insights on finding beauty, living in Boston, & being true to oneself.
Although only 25, Talal exudes an aura of wisdom far beyond his years. He attributes this creative free-thinking to being raised in a creative environment. A Khobar native born in the US, Talal looks back as his Saudi upbringing as crucial to getting where he is today as an artist and activist. “What truly made me break out as an artist was facing how conservative I saw my society as. When I moved back to Saudi after a childhood in the US, it was the first time I was confronted with the reality of social conditioning. I was frustrated because, even as a kid, I could not wrap my head around it. I was not aware of it at the time”.
To date, Talal has created over 43 murals in Saudi Arabia and the USA but he still recalls where it all started. “It all changed for me when I turned 16,” he continues, “I was not expressing myself in ways that fulfilled me. It’s a blessing, I guess”, he smiles, “growing up in Saudi and experiencing the culture led me to experiment with ways to express my feelings about it. I became more open to absorbing experimental art forms and music.” The turning point, he says, was when he first started voicing his opinions through artistic expressions. “It was a big change for me. Up until that point it was just me and my doodles, or music, which I rarely played in front of anyone. This time was different, I felt a social responsibility to express how I felt. This first installation, an illustrated mugshot of an infamous Sheikh who plagiarized a book, created a great controversy at the time. “The idea was to get people thinking and talking about it—Not everyone was happy, but I didn’t do it for them.”
“A big part of how I got here is appreciating the imperfections”.
Even with the beautifully provocative pieces he creates, Talal stays humble. “The idea is to express,” he says, not to draw attention to me, but rather to the message. I want people to think about it. Even with my first piece, I didn’t know it had become that controversial and popular until I saw it in a magazine a few months later”. When asked about the art scene in the Khaleej though, Talal seems to light up with excitement, “Theres a huge art scene, and they’re being more and more supported. It’s really motivating and inspiring seeing young people into art and galleries that allow them to participate. Young Khaleejis are finding the support they need from people.”
Still, Talal has high hopes for the future of youth art in the Middle East. With a vision to creating a collaborative artist space, Talal is determined to reinvigorate the passion for free artistic expression. “I want to be able to provide a space where people can freely express themselves, with arts and literature and music and performance–a place that promotes acceptance and possibility and that is non segregated and uncensored.”
Graduating from Boston University in 2014, Talal recounts his time on the East Coast as one that fundamentally shaped his character and art. “I suffered from anxiety my first few years in Boston. I lost sight of life and became anxious about my work. It was a weird time. It’s a vicious cycle, being stuck in work or school. I hated biology, and I hated my coursework. One day I just broke out. I needed to focus on myself, so I picking up instruments and drawing again again. Oddly enough, it all came full cycle. Taking a break from school made me rediscover my love for biology and learning, without the pressure of grades.”With this revelation Talal began to look at Biology and Art as being seamlessly intertwined. “When I look under the microscope, I think of binds, the connections that make an organism what it is. The connections; they’re beautiful. How they work, react, and change. Biology for me is like entering the creative zone. When you realize that everything is a bond-chemical or spiritual- you can find beauty in everything. I want to base my artwork on the biology on my work in the lab.”
“Your worst enemy is your own perspective but it’s also your best friend- those are words I live by”.
Not only in his art, but also in the way he practices his life, Talal believes in the beauty of connections. To him, categories seize to exist, and that relationships across fields and experiences are one of the wonders of life. Towards the end of our interview, Talal leaves me with a striking parting message; “I heard a quote somewhere and I’ve lived by it for a while; ‘your worst enemy is your own perspective but it’s also your best friend’. I truly believe that, that everything is relative—especially with imperfections. A big part of how I got here is appreciating those imperfections. Words are too deceiving, too literal, but not art! The beauty of art is that it gets people to explore the relativity.”
Mashael; is Bahraini urban designer and photographer based in Dubai. She is interested in capturing photos of urban life, with a focus on the particularly shedding light on young creatives in the region. Check her out here.