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Kate Toledo: Dubai's Accessible Contemporary Art
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Kate Toledo: Dubai's Accessible Contemporary Art

Picture of Sarah Zakzouk
Updated: 25 January 2016
Born in Tanzania and brought up in Africa and New Zealand, artist Kate Toledo uses creativity to explore her own life story so far, a journey traversing different cultures and traditions and leading to a uniquely accessible art style. Based in Dubai since 2006, Toledo is currently exhibiting in the city’s 2014 Art Beat Night as part of the Capsule Arts Expo.
Islamic Splendour
Islamic Splendour | Image courtesy the artist.

Stepping into the Toledo residence, a beautiful villa located in Dubai’s Jumeirah district, the visitor is faced with a myriad of artworks from countries as diverse as China, Japan and Iran, among others. The surroundings provide an insight into the artist herself and her work: vibrant, colourful, bold and intent on making maximum impact.

Having lived in Brazil for over 20 years, Toledo brings elements of Afro-Roman Catholic eclecticism to her work, creating a rich mixture of colour, shape and texture that is almost tangible through her art. Then eight years ago Toledo relocated to the Middle East, which was a challenge both culturally and artistically, as her paintings would now take on an entirely different composition.

‘My initial inspirations here became the old souks and villages, the Mashrabiya windows and balconies,’ explains Toledo. ‘I have combined my Brazilian palette with the architecture of the region, and something really vibrant evolved. I am reminded of the richness of Middle Eastern culture and history.’

Dourado | Image courtesy the artist

Inspired by 12th century medieval Persia and Islamic objects from this era, Toledo’s artwork is intertwined with Islamic geometrics and intricate embroidery patterns, characteristic of the era and its artistry. Gathering her experiences in needlework and tapestry, Toledo uses her Middle Eastern-inspired pieces to reflect on her own personal visits to the Doha Museum of Islamic Art, taking snapshots of local influences and combining them to create something that embodies her own personal take on a culture and creativity.

Exhibiting the artist’s usual vibrant and slightly eccentric style, Toledo’s paintings are bursting with colour and energy, with bright shades serving as the backdrop to her creations. Quasi-mythic creatures are set against vibrant backgrounds, recalling the traditional forms of incense-burners on show at the museum. Although these animal forms embody tradition, they are represented in a form accessible to the modern viewer.

This is what Toledo’s art pieces are all about: access. Having exhibited four pieces from her 2012 exhibition Reflections of Islamic Splendour in this year’s Art Beat Night in Dubai, the artist is exploring different points of entry to her work by experimenting with clothing as wearable art; her recent scarf collection was featured at Art Dubai in March 2013. Not necessarily a proponent of ‘wearable art’, Toledo decided to make an exception with these scarves, sourcing only the best in quality in terms of workmanship, material and overall execution.

Incense burner in the shape of an elephant – Iran 12th century
Incense burner in the shape of an elephant – Iran 12th century | Image courtesy the artist

“The whole idea is about taking the artwork from the gallery wall,” Toledo explains. The scarves are an experience in themselves, encouraging a sensory understanding of the artist’s creative process through their texture functionality. Toledo is taking a piece of local culture from the confines of a museum in Qatar to the necks of local people, reimagining what a culture has to offer in contemporary art terms.

Following the same lines of ‘accessible art’, Toledo has also designed a range of soft furnishings. This is an artist having fun, and sharing her sense of fun through her work. Art does not have to be a canvas on the wall but can be appreciated in multifarious forms, and this is what Toledo is exploring. Bringing together influences from around the world, Toledo liberates art from the wall and brings it into audiences’ lives.