Abdulaziz Ashour

Abdulaziz Ashour was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1963 where he still lives and works. Like many Saudi artists, he began exploring his interest in fine art whilst still engaged in full time work at the Ministry of Energy but since 2009 has devoted all his time to his artistic practice. A highly regarded and innovative artist, writer, commentator and arts administrator, Ashour has carefully documented the work of Modern and Contemporary Saudi artists as they have progressed fitfully over the last fifty years. Director of the Arts Committee of the Jeddah Arts & Culture Organisation between 1994-98, acted as the arts consultant to the Ministry of Culture and Education in Saudi and responsible for establishing a cultural forum in Jeddah, Ashour has himself held numerous solo exhibitions in Jeddah, Riyadh, Cairo and Sharjah and participated in many international exhibitions including the Biennales of Sharjah, Cairo, Dacca and Muscat and shows in Mexico, the USA, Tunisia, Kuwait and Jordan that have resulted in many awards including the Golden Palm award in Kuwait.

His work is represented in many important international collections and has proved an important influence for many Saudi artists working today. His iconic ‘Newspaper Series’ deals with the subject of the reporting and documentation of art in Saudi, subject matter that he continues to re-visit to this day. Showing a masterful handling of simple media and colour, the tones of which subtly convey the artist’s message, Ashour creates thought-provoking yet aesthetically enthralling works of art.

Adel Al-Quraishi

Adel Al Quraishi (Adel Quraishi) is a Saudi Arabian photographer, born in Al Khobar in 1968. He grew up fascinated by the photographic medium and experimented with various cameras from a young age and into adulthood. In 1991 he decided to concentrate more seriously on photography after encouragement from his friend and mentor, the Brazilian photographer Humberto da Silveira, who helped to nurture his talent. Quraishi photographs a range of subjects and is accomplished in capturing stunning landscapes, but his true passion lies in photographing people. He finds portraiture to be an especially deep discipline: there being always more to the subject that what you first see. He enjoys the challenge of diving into this process of documentation. Quraishi photographs both with analogue large format cameras and with Canon digital cameras.

Adel Quraishi was asked to produce photographic portraits of the eight remaining ‘Guardians’ of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Nabaw) by the current Governor of Medina, to be exhibited in the February 2014 exhibition entitled ‘Letters and Illumination’ in Medina (an exhibition depicting the history of the city through calligraphy and photographs dating back to the 19th Century). He is the only man to have been permitted to photograph these subjects, three of whom have since passed away. At the time of the photographs, these eight men were the last of their generation, a tradition that once numbered in the hundreds. As they are the last of the Guardians – and are not to be replaced – the photographs are unique. The history of the Guardians or eunuch servants of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina is recorded as dating back to the mid-12th century; in the present capacity they are the keepers of the keys to the Prophet Muhammad’s burial chamber in addition to the keys to the minbar (the mosque’s pulpit). This group of men hail from Abysynnia. They wear traditional formal wear with embellishments, outfits usually reserved for state occasions. Quraishi’s sensitive handling of his subjects is evident in the emotion that is conveyed by his sitters, while his technicality shines through in the radiant composition of the photographs. Rendered on a large scale, it is impossible not to be moved by the connection between viewer and subject when confronted by the works.

Hanaa Malallah

Regarded as one of Iraq’s leading and most innovative contemporary artists, Hanaa Malallah has reached international acclaim through her profoundly visceral, mixed-media compositions which are the embodiment of three decades of war and violence in Iraq. Her latest works generate poignant reflections upon the destruction and devastation of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

Born in 1958 in the Thi Qar Province of Iraq, where the ancient city of Ur was located, Malallah moved to Baghdad with her family when she was just five years old. As a child, she assisted her mother with embroidery work, a creative skill that would carry through to her own adult artistic production in the stitching of her canvases. At the age of 14, Malallah was one of twelve students selected for admission to the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts, where she studied painting and graphic design under the guidance of Iraq’s “Pioneer” generation of artists, including Faik Hassan and Shakir Hassan al Said, who were instrumental in bringing western modernism to the country. Al Said, a co-founder of the Baghdad Modern Art group, became a life-long friend and mentor of Malallah and his destructive style of painting, which included burning and piercing canvases, greatly influenced Malallah’s own art.

The turmoil of the 1980’s in Iraq was fundamental to the development of Mallah’s practice, who along with ten other prominent artists, collectively known as the Eighties Generation, chose to stay in the country during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the Gulf War (1990-1991). Severe travel restrictions, economic hardship and social instability, not to mention the horror that accompanies war, radically affected the creative output of these artists. Isolated from the rest of the art world, the Eighties Generation artists reflected upon the current state of Iraqi society while incorporating the cultural history of Mesopotamia in their practices, often drawing inspiration from the relics in the Iraq Archeological Museum, which was only a few steps away from the Baghdad Institute of Fine Arts.

This turbulent period for Malallah culminated in her first exhibition in 1991 at Saddam Hussein’s Center for Modern Art, which was a government initiative to cultivate new cultural life and strong nationalist feelings upon the heels of the end of the first Gulf war. Soon thereafter, Malallah began to teach, lecturing at both the Istitute of Fine Arts and the University in Baghdad. She also became the director of the Graphics Department in Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Arts and remained in that post until she left Iraq in 2006. Furthermore, Malallah is noted for her scholarly research into Mesopotamian drawing, the basis of her doctoral thesis, for which she was awarded a PhD in the Philosophy of Painting from the University of Baghdad in 2005.

Malallah’s reluctant departure from Iraq occurred after receiving death threats from militias, groups who had already murdered two of her colleagues. Malallah recalled, “…They started to kill a lot of academics. I was a woman without a headscarf, teaching in the University and I received threats, so I had to leave…” Malallah began an artist residency at l’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, after which she was awarded a fellowship by S.O.A.S. in London in 2008. She currently holds a fellowship at the Chelsea College of Art in London.

Since her exile from Iraq Malallah had focused on developing a new aesthetic mode of production, which she terms the “Ruins technique”:

“ To physically taste war is completely different than to experience it second-hand. The first lesson taught by physically tasting war is that ruination is the essence of all being. Death has no meaning and anything solid can be reduced to noting in seconds. The learning of this process of vanishing, this morphing of matter to dust, of something into nothing, has led me to conclude that ruination, or destruction, is hidden de facto in the phenomenon of figuration. Thus, for the last five years I have explored the space located between figuration and abstraction, between existing and vanishing, a concept which for me also holds deep spiritual meaning”

Paul Guiragossian

Paul Guiragossian was born to Armenian parents in Jerusalem in 1926 and raised by his mother, Rahel. Rahel worked for a number of boarding schools, which provided education for Paul and his brother. At the age of 7 Paul returned home to live with his mother, often working during the summers to help support his family. Despite his mother’s concerns about his passion for drawing he enrolled at the Studio Yarkon in 1942 and began his studies. By the late 40’s his charcoal drawings showed an instinctive talent for capturing the faces of friends and family whilst his outlined but confidently sketched figurative drawings in ink, show a tendency towards the modernist works of Matisse and Picasso.

These simple compositions were to develop into groups of figures, sometimes appearing conspiratorially close together, heralding the subject matter of his later works in oils.Guiragossian eventually moved to Beirut, later gaining Lebanese citizenship. There he met his wife, Juliette Hindian, who was also a young painter and his first student. They married in 1953, and a year later Paul had his first solo-exhibition at Galerie La Palette in Beirut. The early half of the 1950’s saw Guiragossian continue experimenting with style and subject-matter, sometimes using blocks of colour to form abstract landscapes, whilst always returning to his figurative sketches drawn in ink. Broad and confident brushstrokes in his oil painting allied with an exceptional eye for colour began to emerge as did his portrayal of mother and child in much of the work from the mid ‘50’s.

Paul and Juliette remained in Lebanon until 1957, when Paul received a scholarship to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Upon his graduation from the Academy, he spent a number of years engaged in further study and painting in Paris and later New York, after which he returned to Lebanon. Guiragossian eventually moved back to Paris from 1989-1991, resulting in a solo exhibition at l’Institut du Monde Arabe in 1992.His wife Juliette is often cited as his primary support. In addition to being his wife and the mother of his six children, she was his muse, managed his many exhibitions and acted as his studio assistant undertaking tasks such as the stretching and preparation of his canvases. In the ‘80s his eldest son Emmanuel returned from Germany to work with his father and took over most of these responsibilities.Guiragossian emerged as one of the most important modern Middle Eastern painters of his generation, and received a state funeral when he passed away in Beirut in 1993. His frescoes, sculptures, stained glass windows, mosaics, illustrations, and of course his paintings, primarily centre around renderings of the human condition and form.