Abdalla Al Omari

22 May — 6 Jul 2017 at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

24 MAY 2017
Abdalla Al Omari. Courtesy of Ayyam Gallery Dubai
Abdalla Al Omari. Courtesy of Ayyam Gallery Dubai

Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue) is pleased to present The Vulnerability Series, the solo exhibition of Brussels-based painter Abdalla Al Omari.

The Vulnerability Series features a selection of recent portraits that reimagine controversial world leaders as disenfranchised or displaced civilians. These fictionalized portraits are rendered with an affecting form of realism that although usually reserved for sympathetic characters also draws from political visual culture, particularly the use of propagandist images like political posters or billboards. In place of showing veneration for his familiar protagonists, however, Omari eliminates all suggestions of strength, charisma, and righteousness. Setting aside the hallmarks of autocratic visuals, he depicts them in moments of despair.

Initially, the artist was driven by his own experiences of displacement, and the anger that consumed him as the situation in his native Syria escalated. Intrigued by ‘the romantic idea of vulnerability and the impact it can generate’ while depicting his subjects, Omari eventually arrived at the ‘paradoxical nature’ of empathy. As he developed the series, his aim shifted from an expression of anger to a more vivid desire to disarm his figures, to picture them outside of their positions of power. ‘I wanted to take away their power not to serve me and my pain but to give those leaders back their humanity and the audience an insight into what the power of vulnerability can achieve,’ the artist writes in an accompanying statement.

In The Mediterranean, for example, Omari paints Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president as a distraught refugee partially submerged in water, surrounded by a ravaging sea and an overcast sky. Bewildered, Assad stares into the distance, through the viewer, as though unable to fathom his circumstances. If the initial reaction to such imagery is one of sympathy, the identity of Omari’s subject complicates this encounter, prompting a number of critical questions. For the artist, a moment of vulnerability reminds us of our universal predicament, despite where our sympathies might lie.

Launching his career in Damascus shortly after the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, Abdalla Al Omari’s recent paintings describe the experiences of civilians, particularly children, who are caught in the crossfires of war. Now based in Belgium, where he began the Vulnerability series, he also works in video and performance art.

Omari graduated from the University of Damascus with a degree in English Literature while also attending the Adham Ismail Institute for Visual Arts. Later, he worked with pioneering Syrian artists Ghassan Sibai and Fouad Dahdouh. His paintings are housed in the collections of Barjeel Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates, Kamel Gallery, Syria, the Syrian Ministry of Culture, among others worldwide.

Recent exhibitions for the artist include Institut du Monde Arabe; Strombeck Cultural Center, Belgium (2017); NW Gallery, United Kingdom (2015); Kozah Gallery, Lebanon (2014); and Berlin Biennale (2012).