Artist in Focus: Syrian painter Mohannad Orabi


Saudi Gazette

Ayyam Gallery Dubai at Al Serkal Avenue is currently hosting ‘Ripples’ the solo exhibition of Syrian artist Mohannad Orabi.

Born in 1977 and currently based in Dubai, Orabi spoke to Saudi Gazette in an exclusive interview.

With an intricate and dynamic studio located next to the gallery, Orabi walked us through his journey and artworks that inspire him to create art. “I even built this table,” he said as he pointed to the dusky wooden center table laden with books and brushes while Fairouz played on his iPad. “I built it out of debris lying around,” he mused. Nothing is untouched and everything is sacred in his studio space. From the ceiling lamp, scrap metal to even cushions, Orabi’s sketches have made their way to every inanimate object as if to give them life and personality. Even chairs have character here. He admitted he never felt alone in his studio and in fact it was the characters and paintings that help him create and thrive. “It is as if they are my audience. You can see the way it is set up,” he pointed at a blank canvas facing him from a wall across the room. “That is sometimes the stage and all my paintings become my audience. I have conversations with them and I feel them giving me advice, great advice, even applauding my work at times when I am done with a painting,” he revealed with childlike excitement. It is rare to find an artist who is brave enough to bare his soul and veracious ramblings without any inhibitions. Orabi is unaffected by what goes on outside his workspace and his passion for art. Orabi graduated from the Faculty of Fine Art, University of Damascus in 2000, and won the first prize in The Syrian National Young Artists Exhibition in 2006. His latest exhibition titled ‘Ripples’ reportedly highlights a new body of work that seeks to provide a counter image to the death and destruction that most Syrian artists are now widely recording. His works since 2012 comprise of doe-eyed children depicted with details of his young daughter’s life. While his works continue to grow and other characters have come to life following his initial sketches, Orabi refuses to name or title them. “None of my works are titled for a reason,” he said pointing to a canvas in the brightly lit Ayyam space. Orabi is inspired by daily life including his home, Syrian background, family and places around him. One of his pieces inspired by Ras AlKhaimah uses sand as a fundamental part. “I just let the canvas soak in as much as sand as possible, I could have left it for two days just to come back and see what it’s done, what shape it has taken and this is the effect.” His works are covered in layers of sand and refer to his new life in the Emirates and the years that have passed since he left Damascus. He even invites children over to the studio to play around with his works. “I let them do whatever they want to my paintings. Even their use of colors and the way they work is from their hearts. They don’t use their heads or other meanings. I learn so much from them. In fact my latest work is inspired by them,” he admitted with a smile.

Orabi’s paintings of children remain to be elusive, genderless and free of definitions and borders.

Orabi explored the use of iron to create stand-alone works of sketches he has done to emphasize the forms of his figures. “See the circular forms that are formed like ripples in water,” he said pointing to the shadows that fell off the iron structure. “I feel like it is exactly like life, where I am unable to do anything but life comes at you and this is what it leaves you with. Like a rock thrown into water creating effects and such ripples.” The exhibition will run till 26 of October.

Instagram: @mohannad_orabi