Press Release  July 8, 2021

12 Gulf Artists Portray Spirituality in this Virtual Exhibition

Courtesy of the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Kwathar Smaren and Suliman Hilal, Untitled. Featured in the online show Transcendence.

In Saudi artists Kawthar Smaren and Suliman Hilal’s photograph, they capture a convex mirror in a bedroom that features an Arabic statement that reads, “Souls may actually be farther than they look in reality.” In explaining their work, the two artists say, “Because of the COVID-19 crisis, our bodies have been forced into distance or closeness. But our souls are the real prisoners of the body. They’re lost between bodies that cannot meet their daily needs. The aim of the piece is to document the moment when a person is staring at a convex mirror that reflects their body and their surroundings. The question is, which soul is closest to them?”

Smaren and Hilal’s work is part of the Khaleeji Art Museum’s new digital exhibition, Transcendence. Officially launched in May 2020, the Khaleeji Art Museum is the first digital museum that is dedicated to showcasing Gulf art, and has held seven group and solo exhibitions so far, including Khaleejis in the Time of Corona and Faisal Alkheriji: Representing Culture Differently, as well as ten digital art shows in collaboration with Dubai Festival City Mall. Transcendence is a group exhibition that is centered on spirituality beyond traditional conceptions of it, and showcases the work of twelve Gulf and Gulf-based artists and photographers.

For artist Ghalya Al-Ansari, “Spirituality is an intimate journey experienced alone. It relates to religion, which has a set of rules and culture that those who are a part of it must follow.” Al-Ansari’s digital art piece, Eye Keep Thinking About It, depicts a bathroom in a dollhouse that is lined with wallpaper that features tens of eyes. The piece symbolizes the intimacy of spirituality. “As one journeys through life with their religion, they feel as if they’re always being watched, whether that's by their inner self or the entities they believe are watching them. This feeling can be overwhelming and scary at times, and can lead to internal conflict within one's mind.” Through his dotted monochrome photograph, UAE-based Sudanese photographer Yousif Musa Albadi expresses the concept of spirituality, “as a light that fills you; it fills your void, and collects your scattered dots to form your presence and being. It is what gives our hollow physical body the value of life. It is something inside you.”

Courtesy of the Khaleeji Art Museum.

Bashar Al Shawaf, Memory 6. Featured in the online show Transcendence.

The virtual exhibition is organized in the form of a maze to simulate the common perception of life as a labyrinth “where every road is a dead end.” But the exhibition’s curator, emerging Emirati artist and curator Maitha Al Omaira, explains that life, “may not be as complicated as we think. When establishing a spiritual connection, our perception of life will change drastically and what was once a maze will become an easy passageway to understanding oneself and existence.”

Examining the various artworks on display, it is clear that the participating artists differ not only when it comes to defining a concept as complex as spirituality, but also in the ways through which they transcend and establish a spiritual connection and with whom. Similar to the work of Smaren and Hilal, conceptual photographer Maryam Alwazzan’s series, Do You See Me? Look at Me, for example, tackles the subject of establishing a spiritual connection with loved ones, who have been physically separated because of the COVID-19 crisis. On the other hand, Enas Sistani’s Garden of the Soul depicts a spiritual connection with God. The Bahraini photographer and artist who takes part in the exhibition with a photograph that depicts a person draped in Islamic prayer rugs with flowers blooming from their chest to “showcase shedding oneself from all things mundane and carnal in life,” says that she experiences spirituality and transcendence when she meditates. Much like a flower, when Sistani immerses herself in spirituality, transcending all things worldly, she experiences pureness and beauty. She would like to think that she is back, “to the very root of it all, untarnished and livelier than ever.”

For award-winning Omani artist Majeda Alhinai and American artist William Virgil from the Brash Collective, who collaborated on a digital art piece inspired by the chemical process of sublimation—which is the transition of a substance from the solid to the vapor state—and which is what they imagine transcendence to be, “Transcendence is the act of release, change of state and transformation beyond the physical. Transcendence is sublime. Its nature may not be seen, but it is strongly felt.” They add, “It is a change from something material to immaterial, and in some sense metaphysical.”

About the Khaleeji Art Museum: Founded by sisters Manar and Sharifah Alhinai, the Khaleeji Art Museum is the first digital Museum that is dedicated to showcasing art from the Gulf region by hosting regular virtual exhibitions and art shows showcasing the works of Khaleeji and Gulf-based artists and photographers. Previous virtual exhibitions have included, Khaleejis in the Time of Corona, HH Sayyida Meyyan Shihab Al Said: Reflections, Enough Is Enough, and Faisal Alkheriji: Representing Culture Differently.

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