In August 2011, gallerist Razan Chatti gathered the work of many Middle East artists in one room for an exhibition entitled “AFAQ” (Horizon).
The show assembled works by Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi artists who, regardless of their religious or cultural affiliations, were concerned with creativity. Chatti has revisited this concept with the exhibition “AFAQ 2,” which opened recently in Saifi’s Gallery 1064. This time the show focuses on paintings and sculptures from Lebanon and Syria.
One of her favorite artists, Chatti says, is 57-year-old Raouf Rifai. He is known for his use of the Darwish (the Sufi mystic) as a motif, but in these works there’s little sign of the Darwish.
In his acrylic-on-canvas piece “Warrior” (100x100 cm), Rifai portrays a stoic-looking man whosebee-stung lips and wide nose, as well as the liberal application of grey-black hues, give him a vaguely negro, perhaps Amerindian, aspect.
Broad bands of red, and to a lesser extent white, are applied across his forehead and from nose to chin on his right side which might represent blood stains, or else tribal war paint.
The man’s eyes are indistinct – as though he were blind or at rest – but his imposing facial features trigger an almost threatening impression of strength and power.
Syrian artist Riad al-Shaar has four oils in this collective exhibition, each focusing on the representation of women. Like the vision of women depicted by Iraq’s Tahseen al-Zaidi’s (which graced the first “AFAQ”), Shaar portrays women in an eerie, fantastical manner.
Three of these oils work primarily in blue, while red plays a prominent role in the fourth. There is no obvious reason why the artist has chosen to work with one color or the other, aside from decorative considerations.
The red painting depicts a woman sitting, gazing back at the onlooker. The self-conscious haziness of the representation is such that, depending on how energetic your imagination, she may be seated on a chair or an animal resembling a donkey. There’s little naturalism in Shaar’s representation of this beast – which is either unnaturally long or else stylized in a manner to capture its movement. Shade and indistinct form suggest other figures churning vaguely in the background.
Other pieces revisit themes associated with this region. In his untitled mixed-media works, Syrian artist Walid al-Agha deploys scraps of ancient tapestry, along with Arabic calligraphy.
“He has a new look on things,” said Chatti, “using old and traditional Middle Eastern features.”
In one of these works, measuring 170x120 cm, Agha combines drawing, painting, calligraphy and tapestry. You may not be sure what you’re looking at exactly, whether it’s a human face wearing a tarboush, or something more abstract.
Agha used Arabic calligraphy on the top part of the canvas and on the center-white piece of his work. If this center part is a representation of a face, it seems that the phoneme “wa” has been written as a replacement to the man’s eye.
While not explicitly representational, the abstract wood and marble sculptures by Lebanese artist Nadine Abou Zaki, all untitled, somehow bear the resemblance of three-dimensional versions of Arabic letters. For sculptures, these works are imbued with a great sense of movement.
As you might expect from a show that sets out to be eclectic, there is a great deal of variety to be found in “AFAQ2.”
“AFAQ 2” is on display at Saifi’s Gallery 1064 until April 21. For more information, please call 03-292-576.