Contemporary Arab art goes under the hammer

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, ‘Nap,’ 1981 (est. £45,000-55,000). (Supplied)
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Updated 22 October 2020

Contemporary Arab art goes under the hammer

  • Highlights from Sotheby’s ‘20th Century Art/Middle East’ auction, which runs until October 27

Abdulrahman Al-Soliman

Abdulrahman Al Soliman, ‘Nap,’ 1981 (est. £45,000-55,000). (Supplied)


Al-Soliman was a member of Dar Al Funoon Al Sa’udiyyah (The Saudi Art House) — the first independent space entirely dedicated to art in the Kingdom — and is widely regarded as one of the most significant figures in the development of contemporary art in his homeland. This abstract piece, from 1981, is one of a series of five paintings, and marked, the auction house says “a divergence from Soliman’s more familiar angular, cubist renderings.” It shows a human head resting on a couch, and the dreamlike quality of the work is deliberately reminiscent of the subconscious. “We see drop-like forms, which are also meant to suggest a hand connected to the Earth — a dual existence in a sense, a reflection of our subconscious and conscious states. The oval shape in the painting’s center represents a blooming rose, one which is meant to reflect the promise of a happy and content life,” Sotheby’s says. The painting is expected to fetch up to $71,000 at auction.

Laila Shawa 

Laila Shawa, ‘The Souk,’ 1965 (est. £10,000-15,000). (Supplied)

‘The Souk’

This 1965 oil painting, Sotheby’s says, is of “considerable historical significance” in the Palestinian artist’s work. It appeared in Shawa’s first solo exhibition that same year. “The Souk,” the auction house says, “marks the beginning of her mastery and application of bold color, albeit with a more subdued hand.” This depiction of women in Gaza shopping for everyday goods has the gentle feel of much of Shawa’s early work and “these become particularly poignant within the context of her oeuvre — a remembrance of better times or a hopeful longing for what could have been a very different way of living.” It is expected to sell for around $19,000.

Ibrahim Nubani 

Ibrahim Nubani, ‘Returning to Haifa,’ acrylic on canvas (est. £6,000-8,000). (Supplied)

‘Returning to Haifa’

Nubani’s painting (from the early 2000s) is the first of his works to be presented at auction. Its title is taken from a book by Palestinian journalist Ghasan Kanafani and was painted while Nubani was living in Haifa. Nubani has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition that manifests itself in his work, which struggles with the contradictions of his dual Palestinian-Israeli nationality. “Living in between the need to assimilate and an inherent desire to relate to a Palestinian identity, and to ‘live fully’ as a Palestinian,” says Sotheby’s brochure, “he found solace with neither.”


Baya, Untitled, gouache, watercolour (est. £6,000-8,000). (Supplied)


Algerian artist Baya Mahieddine’s work carries clear influences from Matisse and — most obviously — Picasso. But with the latter that influence went two ways. Indeed, Baya was apparently the influence for Picasso’s series “Women of Algeria.” This painting, dated 1990, is typical of her art, with the kind of vibrant joyful colors and surrealist stylings that have seen her work labeled as “naïve” and “primitive.” This work is expected to fetch around $10,000.

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim

Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, ‘Bouquet,’​​​​​​ 2018, cardboard boxes, sliced cardboard, papier-mache (est. £6,000-8,000). (Supplied)


The Emirati artist has been in the news recently following the announcement that he will represent his country at the 2022 edition of the Venice Biennale. The Khor Fakkan-based painter and sculptor was one of the founding members of the Emirates Fine Art Society. His painting and sculpture works “in harmony,” according to Sotheby’s. “The shapes of his paintings are given depth by his sculptural pieces — he takes the flattened forms from his canvas and creates from them wonderfully playful, three-dimensional structures. Colored and textured, his vibrant palettes come not from paint, but from the pigments from the paper he uses to papier-mâché his pieces. ‘Bouquet’ is one such example.”

Mahmoud Mokhtar

Mahmoud Mokhtar, ‘Au Bord du Nil,’ bronze, 1931-1939 (est. £150,000-200,000). (Supplied)

‘Au Bord du Nil’

The pioneering Egyptian artist made a huge impact in his relatively short life. “His depictions of the struggle for political independence and the emancipation of women in Egypt in the first decades of the 20th century are unparalleled,” Sotheby’s says in its press release. This statue of a water carrier “echoes the aesthetics of the great sculptures of Ancient Egypt and the fashionable Parisian Art Deco,” it continues. The bronze figurine is expected to fetch up to $260,000. 

Inji Efflatoun

Inji Efflatoun, ‘Untitled,’​​​​​​ oil on canvas (est. £18,000-25,000). (Supplied)


Efflatoun created this oil painting in 1958, a year before she was arrested and imprisoned for her communist sympathies. The work is an excellent example of Efflatoun’s attempts to present the working class of Egypt in a new and noble light, and, as Sotheby’s says “to reclaim a national narrative in the context of post-colonialism.” 

Saudi soundsmith Molham blends Arabic rap with Western pop

Updated 53 min 10 sec ago

Saudi soundsmith Molham blends Arabic rap with Western pop

  • Artist’s eclectic taste in music speaks to a global upbringing and the Kingdom’s promising concert scene
  • Themes of Molham’s lyrics range from love to societal matters and mental-health disorders

DUBAI: The career trajectory of Jeddah-born rap artist Molham Krayem has much in common with his native Saudi Arabia, a country undergoing rapid change in different fields. Both take pride in their unique identity, having embraced the best influences of globalization and its cultural mores while preserving the distinctive textures of Middle Eastern heritage.

For Molham, the process of synthesis does not end here. His musical alchemy fuses Arabic and Khaleeji rap with Western pop melodies, creating a whole new sub-genre of music, a sound best defined by his latest track Khayali.

“Pop/rap is going to be my direction moving forward, because rap has been relatively underground in the last two decades and mainstream radio music is very melodic,” Molham told Arab News from his base in Dubai. “You can sing along to the lyrics, memorize them easily, and the melody there is really what hooks you.”

Molham’s diverse taste in music speaks to a global upbringing since childhood. Leaving Jeddah at a young age, he spent much of his early years in Ontario, Canada. “They were my formative years,” he said. “Coming back to Saudi Arabia, I had a bit of reverse culture shock getting back here. It took about a year or so before I felt integrated really well. Then I spent most of my time here.”

Molham’s musical alchemy fuses Arabic and Khaleeji rap with Western pop melodies. (Supplied)

His discovery of music can be traced back to his high school days, when he would jot down lyrics during math class. While on breaks, he would join rap contests with his peers. Fortunately, his grades did not suffer as a result.

“Sometimes during math class, in the last couple of minutes, the teacher knew I would be writing raps, so he would end early and have me do my bit,” he said. “And the whole class would run wild. It was a conducive environment.”

Next came a move to the US, where he attended Georgetown University to study finance and economics. While there, he performed in coffee shops, talent shows and radio stations as part of a duo called 705B. It was also while here that Molham came to understand the complexities of the music industry.

After graduation, he relocated to Dubai and began plotting a course to professional fulfilment and success.

“Before, I never really saw a music career as a possibility,” he said. “As I dug deeper into what I wanted my impact in this world to be, I saw myself as an artist creating music (for) the Saudi Arabian community.”

From his very first performance, Molham knew he had made the right choice. “My first time performing publicly on stage was in Saudi Arabia,” Molham said. “That was the first time I felt the adrenaline of what it felt like to perform. The most gratifying element for me in music is performing, being with fans and having people sing along.”

Molham says Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries should recognize the value of sharing a distinctive musical style with the outside world. (AFP)

Today, Saudi Arabia feels extremely friendly to concertgoers and welcoming to artists like Molham. Big music festivals such as MDL Beast and a whole new industry of studios and promoters have provided the ecosystem and the fan base he needed to launch his career.

“People began to understand my art, and that led to me wanting to give more,” he told Arab News.

Molham says he feels a close affinity with his fans and recalls the time a fan messaged him from hospital where she was recovering from PTSD. She told him his songs had helped her recuperate.

“When I hear things like that, it’s all worth it,” he said. “Seeing people’s responses and enjoyment of the music really is fuel to continue to put out music. It’s all about connecting with people.”

Molham explores a range of themes in his lyrics, from love to societal matters to mental-health disorders, broadening his appeal with a blend of English and Arabic. He launched his debut EP, The Time Is Yesterday, in March of 2018, with features from Egyptian starlet Malak El-Husseiny and Yusra J.

“My parents have always trusted me to do the things that I wanted to do,” says Molham. (Supplied)

The medium-length album’s breakout single, Me Against the World, hit the top hip-hop charts in the Middle East and North Africa, trending across seven different countries. New singles are already in the works.

Molham says his family has supported the choices he has made in life. “My parents have always trusted me to do the things that I wanted to do,” he said.

“It’s been really incredible. Obviously, they have their opinions on certain things. But since I was a kid, I’ve been able to do what I say because I’ve built that trust with them to be able to say something and actually do it.”

As worthy as it may be, music is not Molham’s sole vocation. He is also the founder of Kraytiv Entertainment Group, a Jeddah-based record label, content studio and talent management agency. In addition, he writes for Forbes magazine, providing his take on business strategy.

Looking to the future, he plans to shuttle between Saudi Arabia and Dubai for performances and collaborations. Although the coronavirus crisis has put a break on his travels and concerts for a time, he says it has enabled him to stay focused and further channel his creativity toward music.

Today, Saudi Arabia feels extremely friendly to concertgoers and welcoming to artists like Molham. (AFP)

Molham remains optimistic despite the blows dealt by the pandemic to the global cultural industry. “We’re prepared,” he said. “The future in the Kingdom is very bright. There is a lot of opportunity in Saudi Arabia and more nurturing of talent, so talents will mature earlier. We will see a lot of superstars.”

Citing the example of K-Pop, which became a defining image for South Korea, Molham says Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries should recognize the value of sharing a distinctive musical style with the outside world.

“There’s a space for this genre, which I’m trying to mold and shed light on,” Molham said. “I am creating this new genre called A-pop.”

Saudi Arabia’s cultural revitalization is underway at full pelt but it is early days yet, so rap artists such as Molham remain a rare breed. Which leads to the inevitable question: What reception does he get when foreigners realize he is Saudi?

“There is still a little bit of surprise, but people are pleasantly surprised,” Molham said. “It’s something new to the mainstream. With anything new, people will be surprised. But how you introduce this newness is where the key is. You show people what you have to offer, and you make space for them to appreciate it.”

Twitter: @CalineMalek