Ayyam Gallery Al Quoz is pleased to announce 39, the first suggestive retrospective of multidisciplinary artist Faisal Samra. A Bahrain-born Saudi-national, Samra is recognised as a pioneer of conceptual art in the Gulf and a leading contemporary artist in the Middle East. The exhibition will present a comprehensive survey selected by the artist, who will serve as its curator and scenographer, thus offering a rare look into his versatile creative practice. Featuring a variety of media, the exhibition will highlight the many formal investigations that have distinguished his nearly four-decade long career while also underlining his ongoing investigation of the figure through existentialist themes.

Active since 1975, Samra is one of the region’s most experimental artists. Often employing several media in a single artwork, his successive projects have focused on what he describes as ‘finding solutions to a visual problematic,’ what might also be understood as an ongoing breakaway from aesthetic conventions. Samra’s early works, for example, demonstrate his initial interest in surpassing the boundaries of figuration with drawings of subjects that stir despite their stationary positions such as in Quran Reader (1978), which depicts a male protagonist whose body appears to dissolve.

Similarly, in his widely acclaimed series Distorted Reality (2005-2011), Samra employs digital photography and video as formal components of a larger conceptual framework rather than primary media. The series is composed of performances by the artist, whose identity is concealed by intricate costumes and head coverings, in addition to different objects. Capturing his movement, the camera provides a visual documentation of the sequences of his actions, which are improvised and executed against a predetermined backdrop. The resulting digital prints are reminiscent of early twentieth-century experiments with moving images, in which each frame shows sequential movement, yet within the context of today’s mass media dominated visual culture, the series articulates a rebellion against the burden of representation.

39 will also include such recent works as Arab Spring (2013-2014), an installation of twenty-two balloons precariously resting on piles of sand, constituting a metaphor that relates to Samra’s long-standing exploration of the body as it is transformed by various sociopolitical circumstances or moments in time.

The opening of the exhibition features a conversation between Myrna Ayad, Editor of Canvas Magazine and the artist. The event also marks the Dubai launch of a bilingual Skira monograph on the artist that includes texts by Roxana Azimi and Giles de Bure.