Ghazal Elhaei – Inside The Mind of an Artist
Inside the mind of every artist is a creative world that thinks a little differently than the average person. It's this kind of mind that creates beauty in the world, and the artwork and imagery we are able to enjoy.
Meet Ghazal Elhaei, an undefinable artist who mixes her mediums and presents a liberal look at the world around her.
Born in Dubai, she immigrated with her family to Canada in 2000. Moving from the rich life of Dubai, where the country itself was just starting to go through a striking transformation Ghazal landed in Vancouver and faced a shift in culture and weather. “Growing up we had a really rich life. We were kind of in the epicentre when Dubai was just beginning to grow. I moved to Canada in 2000 and went from a life of luxury to a middle class reality, sharing two bedrooms with my family and I started working really young.”
The life lessons thrown on her at a young age made her determined to work hard for what she wanted and also gave her a unique friendship group. “I was very outgoing but also introverted and I was kind of beyond my years so to speak. I was always around adults and people older than me. I started working when I was fifteen so a lot of my friends were nineteen and twenty. I had a hard time kind of adapting in school and being able to relate to people my age.”
Despite the challenges of adapting to school life in Canada, there was always someone around Ghazal to help raise her up. “My popswho is my mom's best friend, as well as my aunt and a lot of my mom's friends had a hand in raising us. So we had a big tribe and so it wasn't like we were missing out on anything.”
Elhaei's first foray into the world of arts began with music. While she had two passions, she chose to funnel her energy into performing and writing music. “After school, towards the end of high school I was like ok what do you want to do with your life?and it was either become the next big writer or become Beyonce.”
The industrious teenager pursued the career, diving in headfirst and figuring out how it all worked along the way. “I started working at a production company when I was eighteen. I recorded, wrote and produced and album with this one producer. It took about a year to put it together. That kind of kickstarted this creative journey that I've been on. Whirlwind is a great word for it. We released the album on Spotify, iTunes all of those platforms, and it was actually available for order through HMV when that was still a thing. I remember going in to order it and it was something like thirty dollars!”
She reached a peak in her career, getting to open for a performance with Julian Marley in Jamaica. “There was a couple of the (Marley) brothers there, and their family. We were in Montego Bay, and I always used to cover Killing Me Softly by Laryn Hill. Rohan Marley came up to me afterwards and said Laryn would be really proud of you. I had so much adrenaline going that I said Laryn who? Bob Marley is such a huge influence, so it's cool to have his family show so much respect.”
It was the skills that she learned while organising her own production and promotion of her album, that would lead to a new career. “I put together a photoshoot, pulled together the concept and the release party. Inadvertently doing that for myself was what taught me to do it over the years. I decided to go to Blanche MacDonald. I studied fashion marketing and merchandising. The plan was to be a fashion writer. I wanted to be a Jeanne Beker, front row and interviewing all these fashion designers.”
Always one to create her own path, Ghazal helmed a magazine that her friends and other creatives contributed to. “I had this little personal blog between 2009 and 2012 and when I was in Blanche I spent all my time volunteering, interning and it was great because it built a lot of relationships for me. When I was nearing graduation I wanted to apply for all these magazine jobs and do all these things, but I didn't have a portfolio. I was this new kid, and I needed a portfolio so I got a bunch of my friends together and said let's do a magazine as a portfolio magazine. We decided to call it One1One because we bought it to life in my apartment and it was 111.”
One1One's unexpected success bought in much inspiration and created a new pathway for Elhaei to release her work and thoughts. “The whole idea was going behind the doors to uncover stories and dreams and our tagline was celebrating the ideas of the underdogs and traditions of champions. We did one issue, interviewing a bunch of friends and people we knew. And we had so many ideas that we wanted to do a second one, not thinking anything of it. Our first issue was seen by our friends and family, it wasn't a big deal. The second issue we got a local entrepreneur to be on the cover. We did a bunch of really cool editorials and had some really cool stories and then we got forty thousand hits and that's when we realised we were on to something.”
The following year was a flurry of activity and creativity. “It was one of the best years I'd say. We got to travel the world, go to music festivals, cover New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. We travelled to Paris and did Squamish Music Festival, Centre of Gravity, all of those things. I got to interview all these people I never thought I'd be able to meet who were my idols. It was great, it afforded us the opportunity to experience things we've always wanted to experience.”
As all good things come to an end, the magazine closed it's doors but another one opened for Ghazal. She started a company called Capital G that specialises in creatives and events. Her events range from pop-ups to fashion shows and everything in between. Putting on Etsy's very first pop-up in Vancouver was a career highlight for Capital G, and after that the shows began to flood in. Through it all Elhaei used drawing as an outlet, painting when she wanted to switch off and wind down. “Art was my escape.”
Using art as a way to relieve tension and relax, she found something in it. “I feel like a fraud because I was painting for a while and going through all this stuff. People think I live such a glamorous life and have access to all these incredible people and experiences and things. And I do, and I'm so grateful for it all, but what they don't see is the sacrifice that goes on behind the scenes. Especially in the last four years there's been no real relationships, friendships where you see your friends every four months. Up and down on physical and mental health, there are just so many things that take a toll on you.”
The sacrifices and long hours had added up, and her art was the perfect thing to use as a release. “I was at the peak of my career, things were happening with Capital G. Things were happening, we were getting clients, but I wasn't happy, I didn't feel satisfied, I just kept wanting more. I was like why do I want more, what is this insatiable need to want more?So my friend asked me what are you doing right now, and I was painting. He said send me photo's of you artwork, and when I sent them he asked why I didn't show them.” In a fortuitous move, her friend got her to share her work on social media. The compliments began rolling in, and shortly after a friend offered to show her work at the Vancouver home show in his interior design display.
A gallery in London got in contact with Ghazal after having seen her work, and her first show came shortly after. “The Brick Lane gallery in London had a group show and asked if I would be interested in showing. I was already going to be in London for Men's fashion week when the show was happening. So I thought if I'm already going to be there, why wouldn't I do this.”
After the success of the show, her friends and fans in Vancouver requested a local show. Using her production skills and Capital G, she put on her own show. “I had a show last June, we did it at Hotel Blu. We had a room that had all the art, then you walked through a pool that had all these balloons with projections of my paintings and then you would walk outside to this outdoor patio where we had a whole setup with a lounge, food and doughnut wall. It was a super fun night.”
Elhaei's collaborations with local and international brands have helped push Vancouver's art scene into the spotlight. Painting a pair of shoes for People Footer on the shore of Santa Monica Beach, she also designed and painted glasses cases for Bailey Nelson.
Her current showcase in downtown Vancouver also features several other local creatives who are using the opportunity to present their works to the city. The possibilities and future for Vancouver's art scene, seem as boundless as Ghazal's creativity. Here's to watching the future unfold for this young artist.