Best of Dubai | Selections explores the most interesting and inspiring exhibitions set to grace Dubai’s galleries this autumn

Mohannad Orabi | Ripples
Ayyam Gallery
September 13 to October 26

Mohannad Orabi is one of Ayyam Gallery’s most treasured artists, part of the ten-strong Shabab Ayyam group of painters who have been supported and mentored by the gallery since 2006. Orabi was forced out of Syria in 2012. After spending 18 months in Cairo, he moved to Dubai where he lives today with his wife and daughter Sama. Femininity dominates his latest series, inspired by watching Sama growing up, with catastrophes in his native Syria ever present.

Unlike many fellow artists caught in recent conflict, Orabi has never been tempted to shift to working with photography and remains a dedicated painter. What he has added occasionally to his canvasses are materials related to his daily life, such as sand representative of Dubai.

The title of this new show may refer to the interminable effects the ongoing situation in Syria is having on a generation of children, but it is also more directly a continuation of a metaphor he has explored before — that of reflections in pools of water, the birth of self-consciousness. It follows therefore that the colour blue dominates the palette of this series, bringing a sense of calm to the works while also reminiscent of Dubai’s coastline. Other symbols present in the paintings that invoke peace and optimism include birds and fruit. One figure stands out because it is painted in a fiery red, depicted under a full moon and star-filled sky.

Often his subjects’ eyes are downcast or drifting out of focus — in one a girl in profile with a striped bow in her hair has closed her eyes. In earlier work, pathos for children undergoing severe hardship was eloquently exposed via unswerving eye contact. This change is perhaps due to witnessing his daughter growing up as a normal, happy, distracted child, a perspective that offers some hope for the future.

Featured image: Untitled, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 140 x 300 cm

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 36.