Contemporary Arab art goes under the hammer

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

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.”