Iraqi artist Saddam Jumaily’s latest solo show, which is up at Boushahri Gallery in Kuwait until January 26, takes visitors on a strange journey. Featuring surreal and magical forays into a world ungoverned by everyday rules, What Happens Always provides a window in the artist’s rich imagination. Set in a fantasy world and eschewing the rules of reality, his paintings seek a balance between meaning and aesthetics.

Unlike many regional artists whose work dwells on political or social issues in a way that is immediately decipherable to the viewer, Jumaily prefers to focus on creating works of beauty whose meaning is shrouded in allusion and symbolism. Believing that an artwork loses its power when its message is presented too baldly, he challenges the viewer to decipher his strange and vivid tableaux.

In Painting, a woman swathed in green sits on a rumbled duvet, staring straight before her. Beside her, a man in a bright blue shirt and hat leans over a figure lying on the ground as though unconscious or dead. In his hand, he holds a paintbrush, which he is using to apply red paint to the prone man’s top, as though altering the colour of his clothing will revive him. This symbolic act represents the ways in which people try to imbue others with qualities they don’t have, such as when individuals are characterised by a sect in a mistaken attempt to define them.

Another work, Milk, shows a man drinking milk from a glass, using an arm that is disconnected from the head it is feeding, while Goya Bird juxtaposes a shadowy carrion bird with the head of a beautiful woman from a painting by Francisco Goya. By creating such distortions, contrasts and disconnects, Jumaily steps beyond the obvious to delve into the symbolism of the subconscious and how it can be used to convey complex truths.

Featured image: Painting, 170×130 cm ,oil on canvas, 2015