Najat Makki’s work titled Four Seasons -Summer.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Aisha Alabbar Gallery is currently presenting The Scent of Memories (Sept. 13 — Nov. 2), Emirati artist Najat Makki’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. Makki is a pioneer personality in the art community of the Emirates, and her insights into the relationship between colour and the memories associated with specific places, have significantly enriched the depth and diversity of her artistic expression no less than the art ecology of the UAE. In this new body of work, Makki layers colours on top of one another to create intense sensory experiences.
The Scent of Memories serves as a testament to the artist’s innovative and inventive approach. She consistently pushes the boundaries of her practice by exploring new techniques and mediums. Her recent works on fabric include contemporary interpretations and adaptations of the dot and paisley design from traditional fabrics. Her creativity has also been inspired by the local Emirates environment such as the desert, the sea and folklore. Her work covers a variety of styles, including realism and abstract expressionism.
Often celebrated for her early work in which she used symbols of Emirati culture and heritage such as saffron and henna, Makki’s later work is more abstract. Her technique has been influenced by modernism and is related to both her local environment and the human condition. Often known for her focus on the female figure and symbols, she has also created more abstract, layered paintings. Born in Dubai in 1956, she is best known for her attachment to colour and dreamlike, abstracted depictions of the natural landscape of the UAE. Her tryst with art started in childlike wonder — it later led her to Cairo, Egypt, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in relief sculpture and metal from the College of Fine Arts (1982 and 1998, respectively). She was the first Emirati woman to earn a government scholarship to study art abroad, in 1977.
Najat Makki is a pioneer Emirati artist.
She was influenced by pioneer Egyptian artists such as Mokhtar, Mohamed Saeed, Hamed Nada, Brothers Wanly, Alsajini and Saed Alsader. Upon returning to the UAE, the colourist and painter started exploring fluorescent paints through her work in scenography for children at the Ministry of Education, introducing the Gulf to a style of abstract painting that was characterised primarily by large fields of flat, solid colour spread across the canvas, creating areas of unbroken surfaces and flat picture planes.
“Everything has colour to me,” Makki has said. “When I was a child, my father owned an herbal medicine shop. It was full of boxes of all different herbs as well as indigo dye and alum-block. I used them all to paint on paper bags. That’s when I started to love colour. At home, I watched my sisters make cushions and curtains from brightly coloured material. I learned about light and shadow from watching my mother fold our clothes. My relationship with colour didn’t just come; I worked on it by learning from everything I saw.”
Her use of material in contemporary art contexts created an unconventional viewing experience, often accompanied by UV-A lights that elevated matter from canvas in lurid dimensionality. The experimentation first debuted in her solo exhibition at Al Wasl Club in Dubai in 1987; it marked a turning point in her career and gained her regional recognition. Makki later returned to the Egyptian capital to pursue a doctorate degree, making her the first Emirati woman to formally specialise in the philosophy of art (2001), adding a theoretical dimension to her practical aptitude and visual flair. She has exhibited widely in the UAE and also internationally in Egypt, France, Germany, India, Jordan, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
Her works are in the permanent collections of Sharjah Art Museum, the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Foundation in Dubai, Women’s Museum in Dubai and the Ministry of Culture and Youth in Abu Dhabi, among others. She was the only female artist among the 15 showing at 1980 — Today: Exhibitions in the UAE, the National Pavilion UAE, at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) curated by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. She had an acclaimed retrospective at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi titled Luminescence (2019).
She is a member of the Dubai Cultural Council, the Emirates Plastic Arts Society and Art Friends Society. A multi-award-winning artist, she has received the Emirates Appreciation Award (2015), the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development’s National Award for Arts, Sciences and Literature (2008), Gulf Cooperation Council Biennial Award (1998), Sultan Bin Owais Cultural Award (1994), Jury Award, First Session of Sharjah Biennial (1993), in addition to several excellence and merit certificates.
Aisha Alabbar Gallery was founded in 2018 as a platform to promote Emirati and local and regional artists, who practice in a diverse range of artistic genres. Keeping a sharp lookout for innovative techniques, the gallery is a multidisciplinary space that not only exhibits the work of artists, but also welcomes the exploration of fashion, cinema and other creative concepts. Its workshops cover many disciplines, and include meet ups and talks; the gallery is a hub to freely engage in discussion, debate and discovery. Founder and owner Aisha Alabbar is recognised as a strong advocate for art, with major contributions to the local art scene. She is also an established photographer, documenting her journey, growth and emotions through the use of photographic images.
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