The haunting
October 29 2015 09:44 PM
WAR-AFFECTED: Safa shows effects of war in her sculptures. Photos by Umer Nangiana
WAR-AFFECTED: Safa shows effects of war in her sculptures. Photos by Umer Nangiana

Syrian artist Safa Alset works with metal, using steel and copper as a means to create original art pieces, which stand out for their rough texture and design. Iraqi artist Riyad Ne’mah hones in on childhood memories, and feelings that characterise youth, writes Umer Nangiana

She sees what others might miss. And then she turns this observation into pieces of art that anyone would have seen. Finding objects from debris and putting them together to create forms is nothing uncommon.
But living in a country torn apart by ongoing war, procuring objects from the wreckage of war to create metal sculptures and installations narrating complete stories takes a special talent. And it seems Syrian artist Safa Alset has that knack in abundance.
She manages to bring out expressions on the faces of even those of her cold subjects that she creates from metal! If Safa intends to show you pain on the face of a woman that she creates from steel, you will see it there. This woman is carrying a baby in her womb and has lost one of her legs. You can see her agony as she ponders over her future with her head down.
The same power of Safa’s observation leads her to create a masterpiece, titled ‘Yellow Barrel,’ an installation where a small frock-wielding girl, created with iron pieces and wire, sprouts from a yellow barrel.
While many interpret barrel as ‘barrel bombs,’ the colour yellow symbolises sunshine and is often associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.
These and many of her installations on the same theme have recently been put on exhibition at Katara Art Centre (KAC), building 5, Katara Cultural Village by al-Markhiya Gallery, along with selected paintings of Iraqi artist Riyad Ne’mah.
“These are just metal pieces that she finds from the rubble, whatever she finds. In some cases, she has tried to demonstrate hope in the form of sculptures. It is not just women and children, but for everybody affected by the war. Some sculptures show how people have been rendered physically impaired,” Heather Alnuweiri, Marketing and Sales, al-Markhiya gallery, tells Community at the opening of the exhibition.
Safa, she says, is living between Syria and Paris in France, and sculpture is her passion. “It is very hard right now to get materials for sculptures in her country and I think she has done a fantastic job,” says Heather.
It is, however, not the first time, she adds. They have a Palestinian artist who lives in a refugee camp in Lebanon and he does the same thing. He has found objects from the camp to create his art, though they are not 3-dimensinal structures like Safa’s.
“This is, for me, really wonderful. I prefer these ones which are actually you know a little bit in pieces. I think it is a brilliant idea because it is reflective of time and that is what art should be. It should be a reflection of what is going on,” says Heather.
Born in Homs, Syria in 1974, Safa Alset studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University and graduated in 1997. She had a brief experience with multi-media graphic design, then decided to pursue her own artistic career, working with metal, using steel and copper as a means to create original art pieces, which stand out for their rough texture and design.
Her first solo exhibition ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ was held at the French Cultural Center in Damascus in 1998. It consisted of six Black and White paintings and six metal masks, all strongly inspired by tragedy.
Earlier in 1994, she had participated in the Joan Miró workshop and group exhibition held at the French Cultural Center in Damascus.
In 2003, came her second solo exhibition ‘Figures’ where she presented sketches made of iron in large scale, transforming the hard nature of the metal into art that is alive and flowing.
Safa Alset literally plays with fire. In her Damascus studio, the lively artist heats and melds scrap pieces of iron and copper to form giant sculptures, a series of which have been on display at the Art House, Damascus throughout August 2009.
In this exhibition, Alset tried to capture the feeling she says women have when men leave them alone either through death, divorce or emotional unavailability. As such, the exhibition was full of haunting, willowy figures which peek out from all over the hotel’s patio. This is her first exhibition in Qatar at KAC.
Riyad Ne’mah is also displaying his work for the first time ever in Qatar. Born in Bagdad in 1968, Ne’mah is an Iraqi contemporary artist working primarily in oil, silkscreen and printing on canvas.
A general theme throughout his works is that of childhood memories. He attempts to evoke the sense of childhood nostalgia, and the particular moments and feelings that characterise youth.
“It is like his dreams. This is how it was before the war. People were elated and how it was depicted on the faces of the people and then how it was after the war in contrast,” says Anas Ktit, Gallery Assistant, explaining one of Ne’mah’s paintings.
“I imagine this as two-faces (imposed over each other), this is before and this is after, and this is the one after being hit by a bullet, for instance,” interpret’s Heather, pointing to a painting.
“The artist leaves it to the people to interpret it their own way. He has not given it a title here and has left it open to interpretation,” adds Anas, pointing to the same painting.
Ne’mah received his B.A. in Fine Arts with a specialisation in painting from his home country in 1992. Ne’mah belongs to a generation of visual artists who expressed their talent amidst fear, suffering and political turmoil.
His art depicts overwhelming contrasts of colour with sharp and random and paint as if flowing in song. He belongs to a generation who, amid fear and suffering, developed a remarkable talent for visual arts.
Mixing painting, printing and silk screen techniques, he renders children’s movements on walls and their memories on canvas. Ne’mah has exhibited in many cities around the world such as London, Washington, Dubai, Paris, Kuwait and Tunis.
“He is living in Beirut these days and there is actually a burgeoning Iraqi community there. He is a well-known artist and usually most of the Iraqi artists focus on before or after the war or what has happened personally to them after the war,” says Heather.
First day of the exhibition and some of Ne’mah’s work has already found buyers. The exhibition is on till December 5.

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