Search form

Last updated: 9 min 43 sec ago

You are here

Art & Culture

Middle Eastern art goes under the hammer in London

A room full of well-heeled people sat under chandeliers as they bid for artworks.
Mayassah Al-Sader stands next to her paintings.
Zainab Al-Farhan Al-Imam poses by a painting.
LONDON: The Konooz Fine Art Auction and Exhibition in London is continuing to make strides for Middle East-based artists.
The auction’s fourth iteration was held last Thursday in a beautiful hall in The Lanesborough hotel. A room full of well-heeled people sat under chandeliers as they bid for artworks in a great range of styles and mediums from artists across the Middle East. The auction was conducted with flair by experts from Bonhams while many of the artists were on hand to explain their work.
Six charities — the Iraqi Welfare Association, MERCY Malaysia UK, The Prince’s Trust, People Act for Tunisia, World Wide Welfare and The Women’s Council — benefitted from the sale of the artworks gifted to the charity section of the auction.
The event was the brainchild of Zainab Al-Farhan Al-Imam, founder and director of the Women’s Growth and Success Foundation. She is a whirlwind of energy and is passionate about helping women reach their full potential. She is also committed to promoting the work of both established and up-and-coming artists from across the Middle East.
She works closely with the artist Ihsan Al-Khateeb, founder and director of the Inter Craft Gallery in Sharjah. Al-Khateeb has a wide network of contacts throughout the art world and is a great pioneer of promoting and nurturing talent from across the Middle East. During the auction, he gave his personal insights into the works about to go under the hammer and invited the artists who were present to say a few words about their work.
A piece by the Saudi artist Almaha Al-Kulabi, entitled “Symphony of Desire,” went under the hammer during the event. The artist was not present but Al-Khateeb said Al-Kulabi, who lives in Dubai, was driven by a sense of great pain over the suffering in the world.
“She feels sad because people are not taking care of their neighbors and children,” Al-Khateeb told Arab News.
He did note, however, that Al-Kulabi’s work, while conveying a sense of bleakness and despair, does contain elements of optimism.
“Her work is black ink on paper, but nothing is totally black. There is always some hope and the hope is represented in the colors in the work,” he said.
Talking to the artist Amal Al-Zubaidi, whose artwork “The Self and the Soul” was auctioned off for the Iraqi Welfare Association, proved an unexpectedly emotional experience due to her account of a visit she paid to Baghdad last year.
“I went back to Iraq for the first time in 40 years last year. I was shocked to see so many widows and orphans — over five million orphans. The poverty is unbelievable. You travel by car and the moment you stop at the traffic lights, crowds of children come begging,” she said.
What struck her most was the fortitude of the women, many of whom are struggling to raise their families single-handedly.
“I was astonished at their strength. I met so many widowed women going out to work to support their families,” she said.
She described the work being done by her sister, Eman Al-Zubaidi, to provide support to the women whose lives have been devastated by war.
“My sister is very active in helping to support widows and disabled people. She herself is ill with cancer but her charity ‘My Message’ in Baghdad helps widows and sets up courses for them, such as sewing clothes. With the proceeds made from the sale of the clothes, she invests in more sewing machines. We have a lot of disabled people because of the war and many don’t have wheelchairs. She bought 3,000 wheelchairs and also called upon doctors to assist those who performed operations for free,” Al-Zubaidi explained.
She recounted a phone call she received from her sister recently.
“The other day, she rang me and said: ‘I have a guy who has no legs, both have been amputated and he is in a wheelchair. He has no father and no brothers, (they were) all killed in the war. He has many children and elderly relatives to support. He needs to buy a motorbike which can be modified to make it into a small car so he can use it to transport goods to sell and make a living. He needs just $200 to modify the bike and then he can support himself and his dependents’.”
Al-Zubaidi studied interior design at the Art Institute of Atlanta and most of her work has been focused on designing interior spaces around the world. But she has always loved painting and has turned it from a purely private pastime into a way of supporting charitable causes.
“I used to paint just for myself in the house and then I started doing charitable work and all the proceeds of my paintings go to help widows and orphans of war. I work with the Iraqi Welfare Association to help women and children from Iraq integrate into (British society). The charity provides educational courses and also arranges trips to show people different parts of the country. They assist women who can find themselves stuck at home without the language skills to move about and engage with the wider community,” she said.
Another artist from Iraq whose work helps to demystify the country is Mayassah Al-Sader. She showcased a series of three paintings entitled “Round City.” Each of the paintings featured names that have been used to describe Iraq: “City of Peace,” “Land of Black” and “Field of Carnations.” The third piece was sold for charity with the proceeds going to the World Wide Welfare organization, established after the 1991 Gulf War to help women and children left widowed and orphaned.
Al-Sader, who is a landscape architect by profession, spoke about her artworks.
“My ‘Round City’ series is inspired by the 8th century layout of Baghdad. The city was built in a circle with buildings and gardens revolving around the center, occupied by the palace. As a landscape architect, I am influenced by the layout of cities. The first piece, entitled ‘Land of Black,’ carries a name given to my home country of Iraq because it was so lush with greenery that it would appear black from a distance.
“I know that years of war have turned much of the country into ash and ruins, but by working on this painting I felt as though I was excavating the city. Unfortunately, the house of power at the center is still controlled by powers outside of the borders. This is why I have the threads emanating from the center and connecting with the outside as though it is being controlled like a marionette. So, we have a reference to the ancient culture of the golden age of Baghdad and the present day.
“The other two paintings in the series, called ‘City of Peace’ and ‘Field of Carnations,’ are also names given to Baghdad. They reflect my hope that we will again see it as a city of peace, which I believe it can be if we all stand together. If we stand in a circle we don’t take sides.”
Cubist-style paintings by the Emirati artist Badr Abbas, depicting a traditional Emirati bride and a Bedouin boy with his owl, showcased strong cultural images in a novel way at the auction.
Two beautiful paintings by the artist Naman Hadi were especially eye catching. A captivating depiction of a woman called “Waiting” and a work entitled “Passage” both drew attention from attendees.
Film director Jaafar Muraad of Harmonica Films Ltd. was also present at the auction. His most recent film, “Back to Victoria Station,” is about radicalization and terror and is attracting attention at film festivals around the world. Speaking about his work, he said: “As a Muslim Iraqi who lives in the UK I can say that I am completely against any terrorist acts because Islam is peace. We need to take action and we need to make films and talk in the media, and through social media, about this issue. We should defend what we believe in. It is very important.”
Defending and depicting personal beliefs seemed to be a thread that ran through many of the fine works that went under the hammer at the buzzing event, one that is making great strides in promoting Middle Eastern art.

MORE FROM Art & Culture