Amidst violence in Syria an exhibition opens on the impact of the Arab Spring on artists

Ahram Online, Monday 5 Sep 2011

Ayyam Gallery Damascus looks into the complex intertwining of art and politics that has arisen over the past year as artists are affected by the widespread turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa

Ayyam Gallery

On 6 September, Ayyam Gallery Damascus opens the exhibition called 2012. Featuring painters Nihad al Turk, Oussama Diab, Mohannad Orabi and Kais Salman, 2012 explores how some artists have been compelled to address the explosive nature of today’s socio-political sphere in a variety of ways, often altering their artistic approaches and/or reoccurring themes. Today, they are challenged to express the manic instability of cities and landscapes that have been overrun by domestic upheavals.

As issues of isolation, destruction, strife and the act of witnessing become vehicles for nuanced commentary on the condition of regional politics, these selected works act as visual dispatches of engulfed states.

Although known for his startling representations of a materialistic world run amok, Kais Salman’s latest paintings are dominated by macabre representations – something not seen in his artwork before. As Salman’s ubiquitous female subjects stand frozen before the viewer, with ominous tentacles of death consuming their grotesque forms. The slow surfacing of this ill-omened presence can be identified from canvas to canvas, with a final work that possesses a ravaged body in an explosion of blood.

Demonstrating a similarly grave transformation of his frequent protagonists, Mohannad Orabi’s carefree, child-like figures now take on adult-like features. Gone are the exaggerated details that once defined his androgynous characters. Hallowed eyes are given glimmering pupils that stare coolly at the viewer. Decorated with irony-ridden clown faces in one composition, Orabi’s subjects have adopted a more serious disposition. In two self-portraits his image has abandoned its usual cartoon-like reflection and the artist appears with clearer definition and an added sense of realism: as though everything, including his own being, is in clearer focus.

The solemn still lifes of Nihad Al Turk utilise a symbolically powerful element of collage as the artist layers newspaper images beneath anthropomorphic representations. Thinly applied paint conceals the contents of these clippings, as his recognizable mythical subjects are depicted with cyclonic markings, evoking a chaotic dimension that lies at the underbelly of a demonic reality.

Continuing a series of paintings in which toys and whimsical objects are positioned in stark contrast to an unyielding cruelty of torture and betrayal, Oussama Diab’s seemingly pop-inspired paintings are anything but light-hearted. By incorporating a colourful palette, floral patterns and innocuous everyday items, Diab captures a world in which the illusion of normalcy is difficult to maintain.

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Since its founding in 2006, Ayyam Gallery has become one of the Arab world's leading art spaces. With a selection of cutting-edge paintings, sculptures and photography that represents some of the Middle East's most exciting talents, the gallery has sought to promote the region's dynamic cultural scene at home and abroad.

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