The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) opens a major retrospective exhibition of artworks by the celebrated Emirati painter Abdul Qader Al Rais, showcasing works from the late 1960s up until the present day. Abdul Qader Al Rais: 50 Years of Art surveys the evolution of Al Rais’ career, from his early figurative paintings to his most recent and recognisable series of calligraphic abstraction. The exhibition opens on 20 December and runs till 23 March 2019.
Born in 1951, Abdul Qader Al Rais is one of the most celebrated and influential Emirati artists working today. With works spanning from the late 1960s, in a range of mediums that encompass oil, acrylic, and his renowned large-scale watercolours, this pioneering artist has helped shape the language of painting in the United Arab Emirates. This retrospective convenes the full range of concepts and techniques in his work, rarely all seen together before, which Al Rais mastered over 50 years.
The exhibition features a comprehensive display of more than 70 paintings from the artist’s practice, including some previously unseen pieces from regional private and public collections. Divided into six thematic sections, the works shown throughout this exhibition display a multitude of themes, from documenting the traditional legacy of the UAE and the political and social history of the Arab region, to interpreting the conceptual nature of Arabic letters. Abdul Qader Al Rais: 50 Years of Art offers a fresh and balanced perspective on the artist’s career, with artworks supplemented by sketches and archival materials. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication of academic essays and artist interviews, alongside a programme of educational workshops and a unique youth activity guide.
HE Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said: “We are delighted to be holding this retrospective of works by Abdul Qader Al Rais, one of our pioneering artists and a prominent figures of the regional arts community. We hope that visitors will enjoy this incredible exhibition of a life’s passion, which opens a window into the soul of the UAE as it has transitioned and evolved over the past 50 years. Al Rais exemplifies the depth and richness of creativity that the UAE cultural scene has to offer.”
In his painting, Abdul Qader Al Rais philosophically explores the complex relationship between man and nature. Depicting the sky, land and sea through a rich palette of colours, he explores God’s creation, looking at the immaculate and searching for the balance of natural elements. He also examines the conceptual nature of Arabic calligraphy, in an ongoing series called Hurufiyyat. Other works touch upon political and social issues throughout the Arab region, such as the Palestinian cause, the Gulf War and, more recently, the Syrian crisis. In a series of figurative works, the artist documents the historic urban landscapes of the UAE in an attempt to preserve cultural identity and collective memory. Through six different sections – Early Figures, Home, Earth & Sky, People & Time, Impressions & Abstractions and Hurufiyyat – the exhibition survey seeks to explore the many transitions and transformations that the artist has undergone.
The first section, Early Figures, features paintings from the late 1960s to early 1970s. Portraiture was an important part of Al Rais’ work. While at school in Kuwait, he frequently painted himself, the children around him, still life and the environment. An array of sketches, studies of the human figure, old newspapers and magazines from the artists’ personal archive accompany this section, revealing Al Rais’ methods and practice.
The next section, Home, explores the artist’s observations of the nation’s traditional identity as modernisation and globalisation changed the urban environments around him. Paintings of traditional Emirati architecture, barjeels (wind towers), and dhows become windows into the past that advocate for the preservation of the UAE’s cultural heritage. These nostalgic depictions trace the country’s roots and humble beginnings.
Earth & Sky is a section dedicated to the country’s natural and rural landscapes. The paintings are large, immersive and capture the colours and tones of Emirati nature. Looking beyond the towering metropolises, the artist paints the mountains, deserts, oases, vegetation, sea and sky. Here, Al Rais searches for understanding of God’s creation and, ultimately, discovers inner peace.
In the fourth section, People & Time, the artworks reveal Al Rais’ observations and assessments of political events and social tensions in the region. He explores events using surrealism and abstract expressionism techniques, allowing him to express a sense of urgency and deep connection to the people of the Arab world.
Impressions & Abstractions sees the artist merging figurative and abstract forms. Distinct shapes and patterns inspired by traditional landscapes and architecture join in an impressionistic field of colour. His signature elemental square, which references traditional coral and mud brick houses and also alludes to the nuqta (dot) in Arabic letters, floats carefree in the painting.
Finally, Hurufiyyat focuses on Al Rais’ transition into painting non-objective works, exploring interpretations of Arabic calligraphy. The artist studies the formal and conceptual potential of letters from the Arabic language, specifically the ha’ and the waw.
Concluding the exhibition, visitors will be taken on a captivating journey to experience Al Rais’ work in a new dimension, as his paintings are digitally rendered to create an immersive installation.
Abdul Qader Al Rais: 50 Years of Art is organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and curated by Maisa Al Qassimi, Senior Project Manager, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and Sara Bin Safwan, Assistant Curator, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. The exhibition runs through 23 March 2019 at Manarat Al Saadiyat.
Abdul Qader Al Rais: 50 Years of Art
20 December 2018 – 23 March 2019
Manarat Al Saadiyat
Open daily from 9:00 am – 8:00 pm