Finding own style is paramount to award-winning Emirati artist
Though deeply rooted in her heritage, Emirati artist Salma al-Marri has assimilated Arab and international experiences and trends during her artistic journey.
Marri, who studied fine arts in Egypt and worked as the director of art education in the Ministry of Education in the United Arab Emirates, is in a group show, “Sinyar,” with four French artists. The exhibition in Dubai’s La Galerie celebrates the UAE’s 46th National Day and pays tribute to UAE-French friendship.
Marri turned to art full time in 2006 and opened Sinyar Gallery in Dubai Design District in 2015.
She said she was “very delighted” that the Alliance Francaise chose the name “Sinyar,” which in the Emirati dialect means “to move together” — associated with group caravan departures — for the title of the art exhibition.
When she graduated from the College of Fine Arts at Cairo University in the mid-1980s, Marri’s style tilted more towards realism. “My artwork focused on my environment and culture mostly in terms of nature, architecture, traditional tools, etc., she said, “but the style that touched me the most was Impressionism.”
“Vincent van Gogh’s work and personal life have affected me a lot. It spoke to me in a way and was very inspiring. At some point during my career, Impressionism took over my artwork and style.”
Studying in Cairo helped shape Marri’s personality in terms of being appreciative and open to others despite differences, she said. The atmosphere of the campus, she said, was characterised by a “rich diversity, contributing to deepening the student experience and unveiling the human, undisguised side of the artist.”
After graduation and years of art practice, Marri said her experiences have been amalgamated along with the exhibitions she had been part of, ultimately leading her to find her own style that “merges painting and relief.”
This signature style came from her love of experimenting with materials and media, developing a very distinctive taste of colours, shades, lines, symbols and connotations, giving her the rich artistic diversification that distinguishes her work.
Marri uses oil and watercolours, in addition to acrylic pastes that give protruding texture and create new dimensions that cannot be done through traditional styles. Even when she experiments with mosaics, her creations have a unique spin that carries her individual style as well as being reminiscent of her heritage and social surroundings.
Describing the works displayed at “Sinyar” — “Windows of Patience,” “The Porch,” “Love” and “The Atelier” — Marri said: “They all orbit in a highly spiritual realm — a kind of merging of spirits in a very transparent universe. The universe being my atelier at home, a place that combines life’s everyday details — love, loss, sharing, making the most of the moment, peace and gratitude — among many of what makes up our lives.”
“These works are of high sentimental and spiritual value, all of whom took their position in the exhibition beside one another as if to complete one another,” she said.
“Windows of Patience” means waiting for something that might never come and portrays creatures/ spirits, including that of a human, an owl and cats. “Maybe they came through to represent the wisdom of patience and the role these spirits play in supporting our own spirits as humans and sharing our everyday life details,” she said.
“The work titled ‘Atelier’ may be my subconscious in making it very personal; the woman appearing in the painting is holding her canvas stand as a symbol of rising and salvation. The cats in the painting are in a position of unconditional love and support, and that is my reality.”
Alliance Francaise Director Bernard Frontero, who is also the curator of the exhibition, observed: “Marri’s work is in perfect coherence with Emirati culture and uses concepts and visions of the Emirates’ breakthrough from the beginning to the present day, from existence to modernity, while preserving their culture, their art of living and thinking. We are thrilled to have gathered this great artist with a caravan of talented French artists.”
“The French artists — Claude Guenard, Claude Quentelo, Patrice Palacio and Marc Petit — have brilliantly joined the convoy,” he said.
Marri won the grand prize at the Kuwait Biennial in 2012 but she said that “the most important reward any artist can get is that of finding his or her own style and to find individuality.”
“I believe this is what got me the prize in Kuwait, developing my own technique that distinguishes my artwork,” she said.
N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.