Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery showcases first residency programme graduate in a compelling solo show.

Noor Bahjat is the first to be awarded Ayyam Gallery’s new Young Artist in Residency Programme. The emerging Syrian artist creates intimate portrayals of the human body as it transforms through spatial confines.

Noor Bahjat, 'The Other Face', 2015, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘The Other Face’, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Ayyam Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai, has unveiled “Noor Bahjat: Young Artist in Residency Graduation Exhibition” which runs from 3 August to 15 September 2015. Bahjat was born in Syria in 1991 and graduated as the top of her class in 2014 with a BA in Painting from the Faculty of the Arts at the University of Damascus. Following the complications of the Syrian situation, in 2011 she and her family moved to Dubai to be with their relatives.

Noor Bahjat. 'Untitled', 2015, mixed media on canvas, 152 x 203 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘Untitled’, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 152 x 203 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Inspiration from leading Syrian artists

During her 2014-2015 residency at Ayyam Gallery – and as the first artist to be selected for the new programme – she produced a series of works under the mentorship of the Dubai-based, established Syrian artists Tammam Azzam (b. 1980, Damascus) and Mohannad Orabi (b. 1977, Damascus).

Talking to Art Radar, Bahjat says about the residency:

My residency at Ayyam Galley was the perfect gate to be opened for me to the artistic world that any artist would wish themselves to be in (sic), it’s a dream come true. I have learned that an artwork is way more than a technique and visual harmony of colours, as I have learned that when you respect your art and give it all of your time, the audience will respect it back and stare at all the details in it . The most important thing that helped me was my working in an artistic atmosphere with established artists who I became friends with […].

Noor Bahjat, 'Untitled', 2014, acrylic on canvas, 134 x 132 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘Untitled’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 134 x 132 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Both Azzam and Orabi were key to Bahjat’s development during her residency in Dubai, and played an important role in opening up new possibilities for her artistic practice. As she shares:

Far from university rules (‘you can’t do this and that’), I was totally free to break some rules that [were forbidden] […] like painting the background one clean cool (sic). I wouldn’t dare to do that before and thanks to Mohannad Orabi, who taught me that, when we do – it helps to see what is inside the artwork, [I learned that] that and contrast between both spaces give each one of them its owns privacy. And I learned how to end my artwork properly in [a] clean way and respect it no matter how small it is thanks to Tammam Azzan’s encouragement not to give up on collage.

Noor Bahjat, 'Self Portrait', 2014, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘Self Portrait’, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

The influence of Expressionism

Bahjat works fluidly from detailed sketches and self-portraits in a painterly, expressionist style with a figurative focus. Her palette transitions between cool and warm colours, while her canvases features recurring symbolic objects. Influenced by Postwar artists such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Bahjat portrays the human body and its spatial transformations. As the exhibition press release notes:

[…] the artist captures the most inane of human actions and elevates them to deeply compelling, intimate portrayals focused on the body as it undergoes transformation within the confined space of the composition.

Noor_Bahjat, 'My Country', 2015, collage and acrylic on wood, 80 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘My Country’, 2015, collage and acrylic on wood, 80 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Bahjat’s work has a strong focus on portraiture and is guided by the process of painting, spontaneously taking shape during the composition. When considering her process, she comments:

The Portrait in my opinion tells you all you need to know about the person and represents what is the exact feeling of him. When I start to work, I don’t think of the result, I just go with my brush and end up with [a] portrait mostly, and I start to solve the problems and remove objects until I feel satisfied with the result and the concept that grew with the artwork […] changes in the process. I love the coincidence that comes through working [which] may change the direction of the work and take it to another level and a brand new concept. […] my subjects and themes are personal and not planned to be like I imagined.

Noor Bahjat, 'Untitled', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 145 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘Untitled’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 145 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, 'Untitled', 2015, collage on wood, 60 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘Untitled’, 2015, collage on wood, 60 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, 'Untitled', 2015, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Noor Bahjat, ‘Untitled’, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Thinking of Syria

Bahjat’s evolution has benefited from working with established artists while the vibrant multicultural art scene of Dubai has pushed her to continue on her path. She tells Art Radar:

Going to art events and galleries to see how art is developing all over the world expanded my knowledge in multicultural art and that took me [to] thinking out of the box.

Yet when asked about her Syrian roots, Bahjat is adamant that her work is not political. “I’m not into politics and I don’t understand it and I don’t want to, so I don’t see myself painting political elements, because I would be lying to my work and myself,” she stressed.

Nevertheless, as one of the many young and established artists moving to Dubai from conflict zones in the Middle East, Bahjat feels that the situation in her home country definitely plays a role in her art, whether she intends for it to manifest or not. She concludes:

As a Syrian Person I’m touched by the situation in Syria and I feel sorry for what is happening to destroy a city of culture. It’s the place where I lived all my life and it is hard for every single person to take all that and it may reflect on my painting indirectly. I like to think of it as a great country and all the great memory I had there. I have hope and I think positively.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Syrian artists, painting, collage, artist residencies, gallery shows, events in Dubai, picture feasts

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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