Presenting the works of four Syrian artists, Monif Ajaj, Mohamad Khayata, Elias Ayoub and Edward Shahda, Atassi Foundation is delighted to present the group exhibition New Perspectives. These paintings join more than 500 works in the permanent collection of the Foundation, which has a mandate to preserve and promote modern and contemporary art and archives from Syria.
In much of his work, Monif Ajaj, who is currently based in France, addresses controversial subjects and problematic political structures. His style mixes realism with expressionism using caricature to highlight the psychological traits of the figures he portrays. Fig 1 and Fig 2 are the result of a residency in France working with an institution that specialises in helping children with psychological problems as a result of violence, addictions, and other issues. Familiar from his childhood on the Euphrates river, when they seemed larger than life, the appearance of the familiar tree and its leaves during his residency prompted him to revisit these childhood memories, except here they are given a twist as the fig leaves take on the crimson hue of blood.
Meanwhile, Mohamad Khayata is represented by a work from his new series, Above the Fray. The series explores his need to escape from the all-pervading focus on war, uncertainty and terror that surrounds him, semi-permanently stranded in Beirut since 2012 while he witnesses what is happening in Syria on a daily basis. Fascinated by the technical challenge of painting clouds and how to achieve an almost magical sense of intangibility, for Khayata, clouds represent an escape from what he sees as the suffocating corruption and rules strangling the region: they are also travellers, who, like so many people, are caught up in an endless cycle of displacement.
Elias Ayoub’s works take on different styles: some of his expressive figures and scenes have emotive colours and organic flowing shapes while other works have an angular and geometric approach, or even a combination of both styles together. Here, in Jasmine Falls, he explores motherhood, journeys and our relationship to the earth. In the journey of the jasmine flower, he finds a resonance with our own mortal journey on this earth, for once we are gone, all that we leave behind is the fragrance, or essence, of who we once were.
Finally, Edward Shahda is represented by an untitled, monumental three-metre canvas depicting life in a Damascene neighbourhood. Inspired by folk tales, myths and local icons, Shahda’s almost spiritual themes range from Assyrian figures and Palmyrian sculptures to the lives of poets and even Islamic ornaments. The magical realist vista of neighbours and domesticated animals, brought to life in a variety of figurative and cubist expression, begets a sense of life and movement, the large canvas metaphorically swallowing the viewer whole, and inviting them to fall into the scene before them.
Born in Damascus, Elias Ayoub (1986) graduated from the Department of Painting, Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus University and obtained a Master’s degree at Kursk State University, Russia. He is currently working on a PhD in the history and philosophy of art at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow. In his painting career, Ayoub utilises certain techniques and aspects from modern masters, though he feels that his subject matter speaks to his life in Syria. Derived from a variety of sources, his subject matter encompasses elements such as the Arab cityscape, human relations such as motherhood and reoccurring nude figures. Ayoub has participated in group and solo exhibitions and art fairs throughout the Middle East, including the Beirut Art Fair, Lebanon. Further afield, Dubrovnik City Museum, Croatia; Museum of Contemporary Art, Rostov-on-Don, Russia; Annual Photography Forum in Opole, Bologna; among others. His work is in public and private collections in the UAE, Egypt, Sweden, France, Denmark, the USA and The Netherlands, Syria, Russia and Croatia
Born in Deir Ezzour, Monif Ajaj (1968) graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts, Belarus in 1995. He later became a teacher and a designer of children’s books. His style mixes realism with expressionism using caricature to highlight the psychological traits of the figures he portrays. As seen through exaggerated body shapes and facial expressions, these mental aspects were influenced by his visits to psychiatric wards in Northern Aleppo. In his opinion, the years of war have turned Syrian citizens into “a horrific, frustrating, delirious, hysterical, neurotic monolithic body.” Ajaj has held solo exhibitions in Olso, Amman, Paris, Marseille, Brussels, Dubai and Damascus. His artworks are part of the collections of the British Museum; Darat Al Funun, Jordan; and the Ministry of Culture, Damascus.
Born in Damascus, Mohamad Khayata (1985) holds a degree in Fine Arts obtained from Damascus University. As the result of years of displacement, Khayata’s work deals with concepts of migration, memory and identity. Evolving from photography to encompass mixed media, painting, sculpture and music, he often combines more than one medium with photographic work to produce a multi-layered exploration of identity and nation. Many of his pieces include the ongoing metaphorical – and literal – theme of the patchwork quilt ,which reflects his desire to stitch Syria back together. Mohamad Khayata has shown his work in solo and group exhibitions across Europe and the Middle East, including at 392rmeil393, Beirut; Journeys Festival International, Leicester; VC & Oxfam, London; British Council, London and Brussels; and the Beirut Art Fair.
Born in Damascus, Edward Shahda (1952) studied at the Suhail Ahdab Center in Hama and the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Damascus University, before undertaking a residency at the Anatoli Klankov Atelier in Russia. Known for sombre-faced figures that create powerful and emotionally resonant scenes, he also tends to paint the female form. Working in mixed media, acrylic, oil and Indian ink, his pieces exhibit an underlying tension through the thicknesses of the line and the contrast of colours. Shahda has had work exhibited in international solo and group exhibitions in Syria, Russia, Lebanon, Egypt, Dubai, Turkey, the US, Canada, France, Switzerland and China. Notable international exhibitions include the Alexandria Biennale, two editions of the Beijing International Art Biennale and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.