Emirati artist Salem Alshamsi’s solo ‘Decoding’ deciphers his art oeuvre - GulfToday

Emirati artist Salem Alshamsi’s solo ‘Decoding’ deciphers his art oeuvre

Alshamsi 2

Composition titled Code No. 3 by Salem Alshamsi.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

‘Decoding’, the solo exhibition of Emirati artist Salem Alshamsi, opened May 13 at Zidoun Bossuyt gallery. Curated by Mojgan Endjavi Barbe, it is scheduled to run till June 5. According to the artist, he would like to communicate and illustrate emotions he has experienced. He would like his works to be a therapeutical medium that expresses significant events in his life, in order to re-write them and experience them differently, perhaps with more joy. Alshamsi pursued fashion at Central Saint Martins in London, where he discovered a deep interest in fashion illustration courses. He is a self-taught artist, based in Abu Dhabi. Besides being a full time lawyer, he also teaches Law at Sorbonne University. Previously, he had two successful solo shows, in Sorbonne University and in the Spanish pavilion of Expo Dubai. He speaks to Gulf Today

Why do repetitive patterns, geometry and Arabic calligraphy fascinate you as an artist?

The repetition is a meditative process; you can’t stop it, it stops by itself. I am specifically interested in meditation as an artistic medium: it helps me empty my mind and enter into a transcendent state. I also explore how the work’s meditative process shows the interrelationship between time and space. It sounds philosophical, but this is my approach. As for geometry, there is something mystical about it, infinity. It’s also a basic impulse for order, harmony and proportion, I think. I still don’t have a complete answer for this. Speaking about Arabic calligraphy, I’m not a calligrapher, but I love the Arabic language - I am fascinated by languages generally. In this exhibition, the writing is reshaped in repeated patterns, grids and minimalist shapes. It’s like a starting point, but not calligraphy. It’s not something you can read, there are no visible messages. What I also find interesting in Arabic language is the importance of dots and accents. They are miniscule, almost invisible, but so powerful, they change the whole meaning and narrative!


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The titles of your artworks are a world in themselves — they are quality. How do you find them?

It’s like writing a book - the title comes at the end. Here it is about mutual respect and the acceptance of being different, forgiveness and love. It’s about strength in showing and sharing personal fragility.

Who are your model artists? How do they inspire you?

I’ve been inspired and fascinated by a huge of variety of artists and artistic styles. In particular, geometrical abstract art and Op art. I especially admire Victor Vasarely’s and Francois Morellet’s work. I love the rigour of their grid-like paintings and the geometrical sculptures. I’ve been also interested in Middle Eastern artists like Mostafa Abdel Moity, Mohamed Melehi, Mohammed Chabaa, and the more contemporary Maysaloun Faraj, Zeinab Alhashemi and Ebtisam Abdulaziz. I’ve also been experimenting in Arabic calligraphy by closely observing Ali Shirazi’s and Azra Bakhshayeshi’s calligraphy, among many other calligraphists in the region. 

You use colours lavishly. Why do you do so?

I have always had a good understanding of what works well visually in the context of colour, composition, contrast, and positioning. I never use colours from the tube directly; I mix and make them myself. It’s a joy by itself and it gives depth to the work.

Alshamsi 1  Salem Alshamsi in his studio.

How are your legal and fashion backgrounds reflected in your art?

I’ve been practicing law, as a criminal lawyer and have been a university professor, for almost 15 years. In the legal world, a person is exposed to different sides of society - and this includes the courts, prisons, crime scenes, etc. - so much sadness. This side of my life fuels my artistic tendency. I paint every day, even after a long working day. Maybe the rigour of geometry and sharp ends in my work comes from my background as a lawyer, where there is no space for a mistake. Everything is calculated in this domain; any mistake can lead to loss of so many things (the loss of cases, of reputation, of clientele, of career, etc.). When I studied fashion, I didn’t really like the technicality of shaping cloth (pattern cutting, sewing, etc.). I was more interested in fashion illustrations.

You say art is therapy for you. Would you like it to be cathartic for others?

The work you see in the current exhibition is a documentation of events that happened to me (and to other people) in the 90s until 2004, when I left the UAE. I lived abroad for 15 years (in Tunisia, the UK and France). When I came back in 2018, all these emotions came back and I felt the necessity to do something with them.  Art is the best way to channel emotions in order to re-write them. It is something to do with remembering as well. I neglected things in the past and art helped me to put everything together and also to distance myself from them. The events are still there and I’m in peace with them.

What should the takeaways be from your work?

I think it’s important before it’s too late that people start the process of self-discovery, especially what they enjoy and like to do the most. It’s a lifetime of continuous process and multidisciplinary activity. Art is what I like now: but it might take me to other discovery of myself. I’m open to explore and experiment in different disciplines. It can be music or writing or cooking …

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