Sarah Al Agroobi

Sarah Al Agroobi is an Emirati Artist recently graduated with an MA Fine Art from the Royal College of Art, London where she was sponsored by Abu Dhabi Music & Arts (ADMAF). She is the recipient of several awards, including two Sheikha Manal Young Artist Awards. She has received critical acclaim on the film festival circuit, including a screening at the short film corner at the Cannes Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Her works have garnered attention from leading design magazines ESTRO, ID and Close-Up and have been exhibited regionally and internationally at Salone del Mobile, Milan (2012), Istanbul Design Week (2014), the Venice Biennale (2014) and Dutch Design Week (2016). In November 2017 her work was showcased in a solo presentation at Abu Dhabi Art by The Park Gallery.

Mustafa Anlas

Mustafa Anlas was born in 1965 in Dieburg, Germany to Turkish parents who had emigrated to the country two years prior. He takes the traditional art of calligraphy through simplified implementation, leaving his own minimalistic, three dimensional mark on writing. His work is multi-layered, architectural, labyrinthine and ordered. It is through this minimal approach that he believes the maximum effect can be conveyed. He views his work as both painting and construction, due to the precise and measured nature of his creative process, inspired by his love for architecture that was invigorated in Buchara and Samarkand. His favouritism for primary colours is intrisincally linked to his minimalistic technique, as are the materials he employs. Black represents all colours, white is the purest form of colour, whereas green has ties to religion.

Anlas spent his childhood in Izmir, Turkey, where he lived with his grandparents and attended school. It was at school that he learnt to read the Quran, committing it to memory in fourteen months. Coupled with his love for drawing from a young age, this would form the basis of his practice as an artist. His calligraphic creations are all based on words, phrases and motifs from the Quran that are abstracted into formal, sprawling designs in the manner of Kufic calligraphy. He read philosophy and cultural studies at the University of Marburg and established his first studio in Hamburg in 1999, later setting up studio in Istanbul in 2010. He is presently based in Frankfurt.

Anlas’ work has been exhibited in London, Istanbul, Muscat, Hamburg, Bremen and Cologne. His work is held in private collections in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Middle East.

Georges Cyr

George Cyr was born in Montgeron (Seine et Oise), in France, in June 1881. The beginnings of his artistic career, circa 1910, were confirmed as a result of advice from the artist Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin, friend of Gauguin, Pissaro and Monet. His first one-man show was held at the Galerie Moderne in Rouen (* see note 1 below) in 1922. By 1924, Cyr was exhibiting at the Salon des Independants in Paris and in that year held one-man shows in le Havre, Rouen and Paris. In 1934, having suffered setbacks in his personal life he accepted the opportunity to move to Beirut, where he was assisted in finding accommodation by the French Embassy. After his first few weeks in Beirut, he fell in love with the city and decided to settle in Ain El Mraisse. Cyr quickly made a circle of close friends, both Lebanese and French, particularly the Lebanese poet and playwright Georges Schehade in addition to A.Tabet, G.Bounoure, J.Chevrier, H.Seyrig and G.Naccache. His studio was thought of by many as an art school and it became the favourite meeting place of artists such as Chafic Abboud, Elie Kanaan, Omar Onsi, Farid Aouad, Cesar Gemayel, Michel Basbous and others. 

“By 1928, journals like La Revue du Liban highlighted the importance of art by focusing on Lebanese painters and sculptors. Moreover, Lebanese artists were far from isolated from art movements abroad. Indeed, Corm and Srour trained abroad as did the next generation” wrote Professor Sarah Rogers, President Elect of the A.M.C.A., in the introduction to the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Villa Audi, June 2007.

Cyr brought with him the influence of modernist movements in Paris and the Rouen School, (his own particular influences stemming from the work of Cezanne, Braque, Boudin and Vlaminck), as did many of his Lebanese contemporaries who had trained in Europe. In turn the influence of his network of artist friends in Beirut also left their mark on his work.

Cyr worked also with mosaics, ceramics and stained glass. He taught painting and history of art, wrote numerous essays and lectured on the subject. As a result many see him as the true pioneer of modern art in Lebanon.

Cyr held an important exhibition in the St. Georges Hotel in 1935. This was followed by another at the Stade du Chayla, Beirut (1953). In 1965, Brigitte Shehadeh organized a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work at the Vendome Hotel in Beirut.

Cyr was awarded the Lebanese National Order of the Cedar in March 1962 and in May of the same year became an officer of the Legion d’Honneur.

Note 1: The term l’Ecole de Rouen, coined in 1902 by the French critic Arsene Alexandre, refers to a group of mainly French artists who worked in the city of Rouen, in Normandy, during the late-19th and early-twentieth centuries. These post-Impressionist artists, born between 1849 and 1898, followed in the footsteps of earlier great Impressionists, such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissaro, and Alfred Sisley. The members of the School of Rouen were drawn to the city as an escape from the strict academic attitudes found in the salons and galleries of Paris at the time. The artists of the School of Rouen prized artistic independence and individuality, often experimenting with movements such as Fauvism (in which artists prized painterly qualities and strong colours over representation), Divisionism (in which colour is broken down into its basic elements and presented on the canvas in tiny dots), and even Cubism (a practice in which the subject is depicted from a multitude of viewpoints, in order to represent the figure in a greater context). These free-thinking characteristics resulted in the Rouennaise artists’ separation from other French artistic groups. The term l’Ecole de Rouen arose as a means to differentiate these so-called rebels from the remainder of the art world that was centred in Paris at the time.

Abdullah Shalty

Abdullah Shalty (b. 1953) was born in to a modest family in Abha, Saudi Arabia, within the cohesive and close-knit society of the highlands of the South Western province of Aseer. Abha, the principal town in Aseer, is set at two thousand metres above sea level, surrounded by majestic mountainous landscapes, close to the Kingdom’s border with Yemen. It is a land of dramatic scenery, with steep escarpments and distant views in one direction and gently sloping terraces of rich farmland to the other, dotted with the distinctive architecture of the region. Shalty’s family divided their time between their home and their farm whilst he attended the local primary school in Abha.

He then moved to the capital Riyadh before again moving on to secondary school in al Khobar in the Eastern Province, following his elder brother who was a member of the Saudi Royal Air Force Guard. Whilst in Riyadh he received a diploma from the Arts Institute department of the Ministry of Education’s Youth Programme, his artistic talent already being recognised and encouraged by expatriate teachers at a young age, amongst them here was Iraqi artist Salman Abbas al Delaimi, Professor of Fine Arts in Riyadh between 1968-74.

In Al Khobar and still in his teens, another Iraqi artist, the highly regarded Shaker Hassan al Said who taught in the Eastern Province between 1968-69, further nurtured his interest in art. Shalty returned to Abha to complete his schooling and then once more travelled to Riyadh to the Institute of Art Education where he was, as he describes, catapaulted onto the arts scene, participating in art exhibitions and competitions, winning numerous prizes and admiring recognition.

Shalty’s work draws on subjects that have always been part of his life, the dramatic landscape of Aseer and its remarkable architectural heritage as well as the principal mosques of the Kingdom, in both Makkah and Medina. He is a highly accomplished draughtsman and is known for his unique Pointillist style of painting, using acrylics that combine to produce a richly impastoed surface.

Since 1975 Shalty has participated in each of the public exhibitions held by the Ministry of Education and with the Saudi Society of Arts and Culture. Internationally, his work has been shown in the United States; Vancouver, Canada; the Biennales of Cairo and Sharjah; the UAE; Algeria and Oman.

In 2001 Shalty was honoured by HRH Prince Khalid al Faisal who described him as one of the Modern pioneers of Saudi art and an ambassador for the Kingdom’s arts during a group exhibition of work by the leading artists of Aseer, in the Al Muftaha artists village near Abha.

Nazir Nabaa

A pioneer of modern art in Syria, Nazir Nabaa (b. 1938) was affected by the early Syrian impressionists before going to Cairo (1959–1965) to study art. He continued his training in Paris at the École Nationale des Beaux Arts (1971–1974) and after returning to Damascus he joined the faculty of the College of Fine Arts.

Nabaa is one of the most popular painters in Syria. His richly decorated paintings and romantic lyricism has gained him many honours and medals, such as the “Prix de la peinture Ecole des Beaux-Arts Paris”, and the jury prize of the International Biennale of Cairo. Nabaa translates ancient legends into modern renditions laden with symbolism and executed in rich earth colours with graded nuances. He has presented his works in many exhibitions in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and many other western capitals.


Aref El-Rayess

Aref El-Rayess (or Aref Rayess), Lebanese artist, painter and sculptor was born in Aley, a town in the hills above Beirut in 1928. He began to draw and paint at the age of eleven, initially using his mother’s paints and brushes and later learnt to draw with charcoal during vacations on his visits to his cousins’ home in Choweifat, a suburb of Beirut. A self-taught artist, Rayess first exhibited his work publically in 1948, having dedicated his time fully to art since the previous year.

In 1945 Rayess completed a charcoal and pastel drawing entitled Horror, depicting Hiroshima’s atomic bomb, an event that resonated deeply with the artist. The French painter Georges Cyr, architect Antoine Tabet and art critic Victor Hakim came to view the work at the advice of Arlette Levi, a reporter for L’Orient newspaper who had seen the work during a visit she paid to Rayess’ mother. Having been impressed by the young Rayess, Cyr, Tabet and Hakim held an exhibition for him in the West Hall of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the autumn of 1948.

Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, the first Director-General of UNESCO, and Peter Belew the chairman of UNESCO’s arts section, saw Rayess’ exhibition at the AUB and decided to take six paintings from the exhibition to hang them in the “Imaginary Roaming Exhibition”, held during the Second UNESCO International Conference in Beirut. The remaining thirty-six paintings were exhibited at the UNESCO Palace. The artist moved to Paris in the spring of 1948, where he studied painting in the studios of Fernand Léger and André Lhote, etching with Friedlander and sculpture with Ossip Zadkine amongst others while studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.

Between 1954 and 1956, Rayess travelled in West Africa, spending time exploring the jungles and living with local tribes. During this period he was deeply influenced by the cultural primitivism of the region and African stylization and motifs would become a notable feature of his work at this time, as well as for a large portion of his career. Returning to Paris in 1956, he spent his time attending exhibitions, mixing in artistic circles and concentrating primarily on the skill of etching. He returned to Lebanon between 1957 and 1958 and commenced studies on Phoenician, Assyrian, Sumarite and Pharaonic art. He moved to Florence in 1959 after the Italian Government offered him a one-year scholarship, before he went on to live in Rome from 1960 to 1963, all the while maintaining studios in both cities. It was in Italy that his studies of ancient Semitic art forms manifested themselves in his work through the exploration of symbolism, leading to a large exhibition of works attributed to his ‘Sand Period’, an époque comprising the early 1960s. He presented these works first at Galeria Pogliani in Rome, and then at La Licorne, Beirut, in November 1963, in an exhibition entitled ‘Temps et Murs’.

In 1963, Rayess returned to Beirut and won first prizes in sculpture and tapestry at the national contest of sculpture for the Palace of Justice. In 1969 he was elected chairman of Lebanese Association of Artists and Sculptors, a position he held until 1977. He also taught fine art at the Lebanese University. He counted a number of high profile and respected artists and figures from the art world amongst his friends, including Salwa Raouda Choucair, Michel Basbous and Chafic Abboud. His opinions were also sought and respected by people such as Joseph Abou-Rizk, the director of the Fine Arts department of the National Ministry of Education and he was instrumental in building the Lebanese arts and gallery scene, which was lacking in the 1960s. In 1976 he produced an illustrated book entitled ‘Road to Peace’, that dealt with the theme of the Civil War in Lebanon, something which had affected him greatly.

In the 1980s, Rayess travelled regularly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, spending time living in the country at the beginning of the decade after the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon. He was appointed as the Art Consultant for the city of Jeddah and was commissioned to produce a number of public sculptures for the country, the most ambitious of which is a twenty-seven metre high sculpture of the stylized name of ‘Allah’ that stands in Palestine Square in Jeddah. He travelled to London in 1990 and worked on a number of projects including private commissions around England. In 1999 he held an exhibition of introspective works – produced during the years he spent caring for his ill father, a time of loneliness and anxiety relieved only by the time he found to paint after his father would fall asleep – entitled ‘Labyrinthes 2000’ at the UNESCO Palace.

Rayess spent his latter years working in his native Lebanon and organising the annual Symposia of Painting and Sculpture – the first of which was in 1999 – before he died in 2005. He is fondly remembered and respected not only for his artistic legacy, but also for the influence he had on the development of art in Lebanon in the 20th Century.