Filipina in Dubai represents Philippines in UNESCO art show

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Nelia Fabia at the recent Arts Connects Women art exhibit in Dubai. ZEEARTS GALLERY

Filipina in Dubai represents Philippines in UNESCO art show

A Filipina architect and artist based in Dubai represented the Philippines in a recent UNESCO-supported art exhibit held in the emirate.

Nelia Fabia bested 800 applicants to be one of 108 female artists from 108 countries selected to showcase their work in the Arts Connects Women art exhibit supported by UNESCO. The exhibit, organized by ZeeArts Gallery, was held from March 5 to 8 at the One & Only Royal Mirage-Dubai. Art Connects Women aimed to provide optimal representation for women in the art sector while empowering them to reach new heights globally.

We spoke with Nelia, who hails from Tabaco, Albay in the Philippines about her art, inspiration, Barbieland and more.

When did you discover your love for art?

I grew up with my aunt and when she showed me my dad’s sketchbooks and drawing materials, I was so inspired. That happened when I was fourth year high school right when I was deciding what course to take in college. He was a comic book illustrator and he also took Architecture, so I think his sketchbooks influenced me a lot.

Tell us about the first artwork you created.

It was a Spanish galleon sailing in rough seas. It was a completion project in AP class. I heard that it was displayed in the faculty room of Tabaco National Highschool for many years. I wonder where it is now.

What is your preferred or favorite medium?

Oil paint on canvas. My favorite is the Old Holland brand of paints.

Who is your biggest artistic influence and why?

Allison Hueman is an artist in California who I greatly admire. I want to have a solo exhibition the way she did hers, with light effects and sheer canvases. Ronald Ventura is also someone I look up to with regard to style and workmanship. I want to be as successful as them in my art career.

At which time are you most creative?

I wake up at 3am and paint in the kitchen when everyone is sleeping.

Tell us about your Barbie painting that got you in Arts Connects Women.

It was previously exhibited in Artpoint Gallery and Th8 Palm Beach Resort. It was a portrait done when the Barbie movie was still showing. I thought Dubai is like Barbieland with its glitz and glamour. With unrealistic beauty ideals, vanity imposes pressure to conform to a specific image.

What impact were you hoping to achieve with Arts Connects Women?

My painting of modern femininity gave a strong impact to the judges because it was displayed right at the entrance of the gallery. There was an element of humor on the painting too because I put all the luxury brands in one place. The guests loved it and the joy it gave everyone who have seen it is what I was hoping to achieve.

You’ve lived in Dubai since 2007. What brought you here?

I am very independent and ambitious. Dubai gave me a lot of career opportunities. I know that if I work smart, I’ll be able to achieve whatever goal I focus on.

What have you learned in 17 years of living as an expat in Dubai?

I learned to drive fast not just literally, but in life and career. Dubai is very fast paced and multicultural; you need to be adaptable to situations and people. You need to make decisions, learn, create and be productive fast.

Tell us about the UAE’s art scene.

I am one of the founding members of FilArts Guild in the Emirates, we don’t just share the same passion but we are like brothers and sisters. We do a lot of art jams in cafes, Dryad warehouse and adventure hikes. We also organize art exhibitions to give exposure to fellow Filipino artists. Aside from this, I am also active with an Arab art group based in Sharjah and join their live art activities and group shows.

Tell us about your style of using vignettes and cloud-effects.

It gives that dreamy feel. I do surreal art; I like deep and symbolic meanings to my paintings at the same time relatable.

What is your favorite art subject?

Love and lost. Hope and the zest for life.

Have you collaborated with other artists?

I was the assistant of Dina Saadi, a famous Syrian muralist, in her projects in Yas Island. So, I learned a lot from her how to make wall murals in a very efficient way.

What is the best piece of art you have created?

It is titled Harmony and Connections; it is a steam punk style surreal piece showing two people reaching out to each other inside a machine. It is showing the connections of humanity, time and technology.

What is your most important art tool?

My oil paints. My colors give endless possibilities.

How is your Masters at Milan Arts Institute?

It is a very good program for artists like me who didn’t finish Fine Arts. Not only do they teach the technical aspects of art and let you practice a whole lot but they also teach the business of it. Learning the psychology of the buyers is important, too. The balance between self-expression and pleasing the client. The course will be finished in the next couple of months and I have yet to submit so many paintings to get my certificate.

If you could only choose one profession to practice, what would it be?

An architect because it pays the bills.

What is your dream art project?

An art installation, murals and a gallery in my hometown in Albay. I love home. I want to be a part of it and paint a legacy.

What is the most important lesson that art has taught you?

Perseverance. A beautiful glazing will not be achieved if you don’t wait for each layer of paint to dry. I want also to tell everyone that art is very subjective and beautiful in many angles from different cultures. In the Philippines, the more realistic a painting is the more commendable the artist is. As I am being more exposed to other cultures, realism is not their first preference. Here in the Middle East, abstract is the highest form of art. It is always how your painting connects with your clients.

Follow Nelia Fabia on Instagram @neliafabia and @FilArtsGuild and visit

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