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Inspired by the Middle East: Art show wows London crowd

’Sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’ by Pippa Thew.
'The Sea (Horizon)' by Vaseem Mohammed.
A piece by Bahraini artist Mariam Fakhro.
'Dream of a Talismanic Shirt' by artist Elisabeth Bolza.
LONDON: Middle Eastern influences were the binding element in the work of four artists displayed at the Janet Rady Fine Art exhibition held at the Arab British Chamber of Commerce in London last week.
Rady is a specialist in contemporary art from the Middle East and has 30 years of experience in the international market. She worked on the Art Bahrain Across Borders project (ArtBAB) and is the curator of the “I AM” touring exhibition of 31 women artists from the Middle East, currently on show at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington.
One of the artists showcased at the event on Oct. 12, whose work also features in “I AM,” was the well-established Bahraini artist Mariam Fakhro.
Rady gave Arab News insight into her work.
“Fakhro is very attached to the heritage of her Bahraini background. She is painting traditional houses, which Bahrain is fortunate enough to still have in existence. She talks about how the home is the heartland. For her, it represents her family, her homeland, her background and her security. Her work can be understood by everyone.”
Artist Vaseem Mohammed, who was present at the exhibition, showed off some wonderful examples of his work, including a piece entitled “The Sea (Horizon).” The piece features an inscription reading: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” At the center of the work lies a beautiful seam of gold, which seems to be suspended between the sea and the sky. When asked about the work, Mohammed explained that it was his tribute to the children who were killed in 2014 when an Israeli missile exploded on a beach in Gaza where they were playing. He said the gold represents their souls ascending to heaven.
Visual artist Abu Jafar said he appreciated the beautiful soft shades of blue, which he believes conveys the particular color of the sky near the sea in the Middle East — a color that he says is different to blue skies in French or British paintings.
“The artist has succeeded in creating a poem with this piece,” he said.
Another piece by Mohammed that attracted a lot of attention was entitled “The Pinnacle (Moon Splits),” painted in 2017.
Art enthusiast Marie-Aimee Fattouche of Egyptian-Lebanese heritage gave her opinion on the piece.
“For me, what I like about this piece is that the scene looks familiar. I have a sense of home while looking at it. It reminds me of a night stroll… in Morocco or Egypt. This gives a sense of the light that shines at night when you walk through the deserted streets — the time between the end of the busy nightlife period and just before the city awakens again.”
Speaking about his work, Mohammed said: “My paintings share an expression of isolation while representing a global community. This is an expression of my own feelings of isolation among the Western and Islamic communities.
“I have two distinct styles of which one uses calligraphy at the heart of the piece, juxtaposed on top of modernist, abstract style work. I would describe the calligraphy as a representation of Islam’s stability and presence in an ever-changing world.
“I also draw from my childhood experience of living in the East End of London in the 1970s. That’s what inspires me; I liked dilapidation, paint peeling off and things like that. In my parents’ house, which was more than 100 years old, I used to peel off the wallpaper and there were decades of wallpaper underneath. Subconsciously, I started using that in my work.”
Artist Pippa Thew, who was born in Kenya and now lives in Devon in the UK, has strong connections with the Middle East. She described her first introduction to the Gulf region in a conversation with Arab News.
“My connection with the Middle East started when I had a solo exhibition in Abu Dhabi. I was very fortunate as I was invited out to the royal stables by a granddaughter of the President of the UAE Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
“She invited me to see her racing horses and a stallion and I began to paint the horses. I was also very fortunate to become very good friends with a lot of Emirati people. I do a lot of portraits of my clients and their families, which is something I love to do.
“I love the Middle East, its culture and its people. I think it is a beautiful and fascinating place,” she said.
Thew’s paintings on show included “Sultan and Arabian Stallion Fayed” and “Sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.”
“We were coming back on a yacht and it was a beautiful September evening and very hot. The light was catching across the mosque and I just had to paint it,” she said.
Also featured in the exhibition was the artist Elisabeth Bolza, who has, for many years, studied Islamic arts and civilization. Since 2014, she has spent extended periods of time in Saudi Arabia studying its heritage and that of other countries in the region.
She was nominated for the Jameel Prize 2017 and is currently preparing a major exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum due to open on Jan. 20, 2018.
Her work “Dream of a Talismanic Shirt, 2010” was greatly admired by exhibition visitor and video producer Khalil Itani. His company, Visual Story, has covered many major Middle East art exhibitions and independent artist shows. He has a keen eye, developed over many years of training his lens on a wide range of art works.
Commenting on the piece, he said: “The balance of colors is wonderful and this represents mixed media creativity at its best. The combination of colors is subtle and I like the calligraphy — I like the layers and Islamic-Arabian influence in it.”
Rady was asked about the criteria she uses when selecting work for exhibitions, to which she replied: “First and foremost, I look at the art. Which country the artists come from is not relevant. When I am curating an exhibition, I am intent solely on showing superb artists.”

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