This work is in oil and acrylic on canvas.
Contemporary Art Platform — CAP — Kuwait is showcasing the works of renowned London-based Syrian artist Sara Shamma. To run October-November, the exhibition is titled “Age”, and the body of paintings consists of eleven in number, all created recently in London. In her introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue, independent curator and broadcaster Kathleen Soriano notes that “Sara Shamma is not an artist to shy away from the ugliness of truth or the ills of human behaviour. “To date, her bodies of work have negotiated war, modern day slavery, death, childbirth and now, in this exhibition, she turns her gaze to the universal experience, shared by all — denied by none, of age and ageing.
“Yet in considering it, Shamma is not seeking to highlight its ugliness or its tragedy, but to emphasise its beauty and poignancy with an honesty and a palpable tenderness.” Shamma’s inspiration comes not from idealised and idolised women like Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen famed for her great beauty and as referenced in the quote “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” (from ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ by William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 2), but from friends and colleagues who she has witnessed alter their appearances through plastic surgery. “In a bid to wage war on ageing, some have taken it to the point of such dramatic change that they have become unrecognisable.
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“In many ways, Cleopatra was not so dissimilar, using the tools available to her at the time, in order to maintain her appearance, be it through bathing in asses milk, using powdered crocodile excrement on her complexion, or black lead sulphide and green copper malachite to emphasise her eyes.” Shamma, swimming against the cosmetics current, revels in the detail of the wrinkles, the richness they bring to the painted surface, so that on occasion it is as if she has painted a landscape rather than a human physical element.
Many of the portraits have a strong sense of bodily movement that is almost balletic in form, alluding to the artist’s interest in dance. A sense of movement also plays across the surface of Age 9 with its graciously placed hands and distorted surface; but it is the sharp orange of the pendulum that grabs our attention say those in the know, the shadows behind it only adding to a sense of the ticking of time.
Sara Shamma fearlessly tackles taboo topics.
“I was always fascinated by the changes that time leaves on men and women, on their faces, their bodies, their ideas, their behaviour and their beliefs,” says Shamma. “When we grow older we change, not only aesthetically but also in our thoughts and reactions. Our look changes but also we think differently about issues that we use to take for granted. Some of us accept the changes and look to them positively, others are afraid of the changes and try their best to fight them. “With age, even the perception of time changes: younger people feel that they have all the time they want, even though they run fast in everything, older people feel that they have limited time, but they become slower in everything. It is ironic …”
Fatina Al Sayed, curator, comments: “As a curator, Sara’s work was a new and exciting turn for me, challenging me in the creative production of her exhibit. In 2004, Sara was first represented in Kuwait with her journey of dervishes. Throughout the years, I have seen Sara’s evolvement and involvement, tackling humanity and social causes which I stand for.
“I saw how her subject matter delved deeper, and her strokes grew bolder. I am very proud of her achievements and the recognition that she has received in the Middle East and internationally.” Al Sayed is an art dealer, curator and producer who has championed visual art from the Middle East in Kuwait since 1999, showcasing upcoming and established artists, producing exhibitions with public and private institutions.
Shamma was born in Damascus, Syria (1975) to a Syrian father and Lebanese mother. She graduated from the Painting Department of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Damascus, in 1998 and moved to London in 2016 under the auspices of an Exceptional Talent Visa. She currently lives and works there. Never one to shy away from cringe-worthy or taboo subjects, Shamma’s practice fearlessly tackles death, illnesses and the sea of troubles man is naturally subject to. She expresses herself mainly through self-portraits and children, which she paints in life-like, visceral ways, but with wrenching twists.
She believes that death gives meaning to life, and rather than steering away from a subject that is increasingly taboo in contemporary culture, she considers the impact of grief and deep internal emotions. The Syrian conflict has a distinct impact on the way she portrays her subjects. Working mainly from life and photographs, she uses oils to create hyper realistic scenes, using transparency lines and motion, to portray relatable and deep voids. Her works can be found in both public and private collections around the globe.
CAP is a non-profit private organisation founded in 2011, dedicated to developing and supporting the arts in Kuwait and throughout the region.The gallery has presented exhibitions of local, international, emerging and established artists through collective and thematic shows curated by Arab and international curators. It also includes a public library and holds one of the largest collections of art books in Kuwait.
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