RIYADH: A Saudi artist whose fascination with Japanese animation began in childhood is breaking new ground in the Kingdom’s burgeoning art scene.

Maryam Al-Suwaidan paints Japanese-style whimsical characters that evoke feelings of nostalgia.

Her love for Japanese art began in childhood when she copied drawings from the covers of videos and comic books featuring her favorite characters.

“These works had a special charm for me and opened the doors of imagination, which motivated me to continue drawing,” she said.

Al-Suwaidan’s method is derived from chibi art, a style of Japanese cartoon and anime illustration characterized by small, cute and exaggerated characters with oversized heads.

In high school, as Al-Suwaidan’s fondness for the art form grew, she decided to learn Japanese.

“I didn’t realize that most of these works came from Japan until almost high school. This pushed me to watch more of their works, and the Japanese language was completely new to me but comfortable to listen to and easy to learn,” she said.

“By learning the language, I can now access books by artists that are not translated, and discover their new tools and how to execute artistic works more deeply.”

Al-Suwaidan said: “I started learning art at a chalk drawing workshop with the artist Shoa’a Al-Dosary. I focus on illustration — depicting objects and characters with detailed backgrounds, and sometimes adding a hint of surrealism. My inspiration comes from animated films and visual stories that stimulate my creativity.”

The biggest attraction of Japanese art for Al-Suwaidan is that despite the distance and language difference of the medium compared with local art, there are similarities in culture, values and ethics.

The Saudi artist is inspired by iconic anime films such as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Japanese director Miyazaki Hayao of Studio Ghibli, a Japanese production house known for its attention to detail and unique storytelling.

Japanese animations such as the works of Miyazaki Hayao, Nakura Yasuhiro and others have “brilliantly depicted” the worlds and noble ideas of their creators, Al-Suwaidan said.

“This motivated me to learn the Japanese language to read their books and become familiar with more of their works and techniques.”

Al-Suwaidan found inspiration from the works of Saudi and Japanese animators that she watched as a child.

“One of the works that is still etched in my memory is the film ‘Jazeerat Al Noor’ (Island of Light) by the Saudi director Osama Khalifa. It tells the story of ‘Hay Bin Yaqthan’ by Ibn Tufail and how he came to know the presence of the Creator through contemplation and reflection on nature around him. This feeling accompanies me every time I contemplate the world and creatures to draw,” she said.

Al-Suwaidan added: “I aim for my drawings to evoke emotions and resonate with viewers. I choose color palettes and designs based on the subject matter, focusing on highlighting the main element of the drawing.

“Saudi culture and traditions influence my work, particularly in how I portray nature and surroundings. Feedback on my art has been positive, reminding viewers of their childhood memories and dreams.”

Al-Suwaidan views art as an “integral part of society” that reflects identity and conveys messages: “Through art, an artist can express their lifestyle and perspectives, connecting with others in the community.”

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