Isshaq Ismail at Efie Gallery

Isshaq Ismail at Efie Gallery

Ghanaian painter Isshaq Ismail presents a new body of acrylic works on canvas created during his residency with Efie Gallery in Dubai. The residency programme looks to create a more vibrant ecosystem for contemporary African artists in the UAE and advance their careers through engagement with local institutions, artists, culture, history and architecture.

In Isshaq Ismail’s latest exhibition entitled Beyond the Fence, Begins the Sky, viewers are met with a stunning collection of ten portraits that are both evocative and thought-provoking. Ismail’s signature style of abstract, large-scale rendering of the human face is evident in these portraits, which are all coloured in varying shades of lapis lazuli blue. The blue colour of the portraits creates an ethereal setting that symbolises transcendence and universality, yet also reflects a specific African context.

Isshaq Ismail, Land of Hope and Favour, Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 36 inches, 2022-2023 (image courtesy of Efie Gallery)

Each portrait features a unique facial expression that evokes emotion and captivates the viewer’s attention. Ismail’s use of chunky painted lines and thick impasto adds to the striking visual appeal of the portraits. Despite the vibrant hues, Ismail’s figures are not meant to be seen as black or white or any specific colour. Instead, they are to be viewed on a universal plane, representing shared humanity, suffering, and joy.

The blue colouring of the portraits is a deliberate choice by Ismail, who cherishes the colour for its symbolism of authority, royal power, depth, and strength. Ismail’s figures are depicted in states of crisis, but they also convey a sense of hope and the potential for something greater. The chiaroscuro effects that Ismail employs create further mystique and majesty to his portraits, which aim to transcend earthly characterizations.

Isshaq Ismail, Maybe it_s because I am Focus, Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 36 inches, 2022-2023 (image courtesy of Efie Gallery)

The exhibition includes a series of smaller portraits that form part of the new works that Ismail created during his residency at Efie Gallery in Dubai. Larger works invite contemplation from the viewer, with each portrait depicting a different expression or emotion. Ismail’s figures are often portrayed as merging with the natural landscape and the endless sky above, yearning for something higher and greater. Through his striking portraits, Ismail depicts the ability of those in suffering to rise above adversity towards something greater, symbolised by the infinite possibilities of the sky.


About The Artist


Isshaq Ismail (born c.1989 in Accra, Ghana) is a multidisciplinary artist and a graduate of Ghanatta College of Art and Design. Within his paintings, Ismail investigates and explores grotesque figures and textures, providing an intimate look at social, cultural and political realities of living in this dynamic 21st century. His works poetically express how those realities ultimately impact one’s identity, emotions and moods of the society. In 2015 and 2016 Ismail was shortlisted as one of the top ten artists in Ghana for the Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Art. Besides exhibiting solo shows at Nicholas Roman Fine Art in New York, Gallery 1957 in Accra and HdM Gallery in Beijing, he has participated in group shows at the likes of Christies New York, Ross- Sutton Gallery, Choose Gallery (Stuttgart, Germany), Ghana’s National Museum, and Absa Gallery (Johannesburg, South Africa), as well as participating in a group exhibition at Christie’s London in collaboration with Efie Gallery.

Beyond the Fence Begins the Sky

Location: Efie Gallery

Duration: 28 February – 29 May 2023



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