Moira Zahra

Blog

Talking Heads

This week I was invited by Creative Edinburgh and The Skinny to deliver a short talk about my work and my story when moving from Malta to Edinburgh - the how’s & why’s. The event was at Summer Hall and it was a great overall experience. The audience was lovely, as were the other speakers, plus we had free pizza and beer, what more could you want from an event?

I’ve decided to include a transcript of my talk here for anyone who wanted to join but couldn’t for one reason or another. (Images taken from twitter, posters have been credited with their respective twitter handles)

Photo by @chrisdonia

Photo by @chrisdonia

 

Who am I and what I do

My name is Moira, I’m a freelance illustrator & designer. I’ve been in Edinburgh a year and a few months, having previously worked as a lecturer and program coordinator of graphic design, interactive media and game art at MCAST in Malta for seven years.

I work mainly in children’s illustration with Maltese book publishers, I do independent web and print editorial illustration with several companies and organisations, & I also work as a freelancer with a number of advertising agencies on custom illustrations for both Maltese & international clients.

Aside from working as a freelance illustrator, I volunteer as an educational curator with Girl Geek Scotland helping out with research resources and education packs in mentoring and panel events. Since September, I’m an artist in residence at Edinburgh College of Arts in the department of Illustration. As you might guess, my background is in art and technology. I never actually studied illustration thinking it would be hard to get a job in illustration, so I thought I should study and work in digital media and tech.

The first illustration projects I did were for friends and for fun, but slowly these led to bigger projects, bigger clients. It was a fairly slow process but soon enough I found that I was calling myself an illustrator, because my portfolio was purely illustration work.

 

Why am I In Edinburgh?

I was just about to start a new job in Malta as an illustration assistant lecturer at the University of Malta. I had also just bought a new apartment, a new car. Then my husband who was also a lecturer and later a freelance illustrator, decided to apply to work with Rockstar Games in Edinburgh as an illustrator, a highly competitive and saught after position in the gaming industry. At first I didn’t think too much of it, the two job roles were quite competitive and ambitious, but just in case, we planned that should we both be hired, we would go to Scotland. We were in fact both offered the jobs we applied for and we were informed on the same day, that has to be one of the weirdest days of my life so far. I remember telling my parents, ‘I was offered a role as an assistant lecturer at the University of Malta, but... I’m moving to Scotland’. They must have thought I was a little crazy, but then I was never one to shy away from an adventure. I think most creatives can’t say no to certain risks and adventures.

This is not the only reason I’m here though. Edinburgh has always been one of my top cities to live in. It’s fascinating & seems to have it all, it’s green yet urban, it’s culturally vibrant, steeped in history, there are always so many events going on, the weather isn’t great but honestly I don’t miss the Maltese heat, just the blue sky! The other say I woke up to swans flying by my window, that’s not something you see everyday, unless you live in Edinburgh!

Photo by @juliebecd

Photo by @juliebecd

Brexit

So I said yes to the adventure, although the Brexit vote, which happened a month before I moved here turned the adventure into a very challenging one. The first thing I thought was, ‘I’ve made a huge mistake’. Before and when I moved here, I was scared, but now I’ve largely stopped worrying about what I can’t control. I decided it’s not my job to worry about Brexit, that is the job of politicians, that’s what they are being paid for, so I would focus on my life and my work. Perhaps I’m in denial, sure, perhaps we all are!

Photo by @SiljeGrr

Photo by @SiljeGrr


Creative Identities and Place

The Brexit vote was a reminder that I’m a foreigner in the UK, and I realised I was in a country that was having an identity crisis. As a result, I started having an identity crisis, and this led me to do several drawings on the subject. The drawings led to a project title and a research question, but where would I carry out this project? So I applied with Edinburgh College of Art as an artist in residence to have a place and a space to work on my project. Although I got the role, this position was voluntary, so I applied to fund my project through the Malta Art Council and I was just informed that my research project has been allocated funding, so now I can go ahead and make it a reality. In this project, I will be exploring the multidimensional and multilayared aspect of creative Maltese identities.

Photo by @CreativeEdin

Photo by @CreativeEdin

 

Why Maltese identities? 

Malta has a particular geographical location - it’s between Sicily and Tunisia, between Eastern and Western Europe. I think most Maltese nationals question their identity throughout their life, we are never sure what we are, whether we are western or eastern, whether we are European or Arabic. The reality is that we are all these things. Maltese Creatives in particular tend to want to escape the island because it feels too small for us. Creatives are always looking for the unknown, and it can be difficult to identify that unknown when you live on such a small island. 

 

So what happens to a creative's identity when their surroundings change?

I believe Cultural diversity helps us grow creatively. We are pushed out of our bubble, or we decide to get out of our bubble. This leads to a different perspective, a different life, a new routine, and ultimately we are rewarded with new projects, new collaborations, new ideas. My drawings have evolved since moving here, and this is definitely the result of a change of surroundings. So as a creative EU national, I’m trying to preserve my culture and identity but also adapt and embrace Scottish culture (particularly the whisky!) I would like to find more dimensions and layers of my identity, interview other creative Maltese nationals who are living abroad to observe how (or if) their identity has changed, and see how we reflect this in our work.

 

Photo by @luceeverett

Photo by @luceeverett

Visual communication is visceral & universal 

We are lucky to work in the creative sector, where visual communication is one of the focal points. Visual communication is visceral and universal, so it’s easy to connect with people and other creatives. The Edinburgh creative community has been very welcoming to me, it’s also very diverse and hugely talented. I’m obviously hoping that I will be able to stay, having just started from scratch, not because I had to but because I wanted to, because life is too short to live in a bubble.

 

I think that if one is serious and passionate about leading a creative life, the answer doesn’t lie in our comfort zone. Final tips: Don’t be afraid, be kind, work hard but not too hard, have fun. We’re only here for a short time so make it worthwhile.

Photo by @rosaliehoskins

Photo by @rosaliehoskins