Press Release  October 11, 2023

Sabiha Al Khemir's "The Samara Series" at The Washington Art Association and Gallery

Photo Credit: Adam Reich

Sabiha Al Khemir, Flying Fish, 2023, Seeds from Andalusia (Spain), acrylic, on wood panel Size: 30 x 30"

With Roots Firmly Established in Islamic Art, Sabiha Al Khemir Presents The Samara Series at The Washington Art Association and Gallery, October 14th through November 12th 

New York: When Tunisian-born Sabiha Al Khemir found herself stranded for months in Spain during the pandemic, she sought out the refuge of her garden which led to her serendipitous discovery of helicopter seeds–samaras blanketing the ground. Intrigued by their elegance, resilience, and innate ability to fly and grow, Al Khemir embarked on an artistic journey that has culminated in her debut exhibition called The Samara Series, which opens with a reception, at The Washington Art Association and Gallery, on October 14th will run through November 12th in Washington Depot, Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Al Khemir's technique in The Samara Series combines collage and painting. This meticulous process involves the careful cleaning and varnishing of the seeds she has collected worldwide. Additionally, she incorporates cut pieces of painted paper, working on both wooden boards and paper. Acrylic paint-and-ink used to bring her creations to life.

Says Al Khemir, “Though many of those viewing my work will recognize the samaras as the winged helicopter seeds they played with during their childhood, I came across them as an adult and became intrigued by their whimsical shapes. The seeds I’ve collected come from all over the world including the United States, Spain, Chernihiv, a city in Northern Ukraine, and London’s Regent Park. This art project is the story of a special encounter of engaging with samaras.  It’s an experience of creative flight, which I’m excited to share.”

Photo Credit: Adam Reich

Sabiha Al Khemir, Phoenix, 2023, Seeds from Chernihiv, Ukraine, acrylic and paper on wood panel Size: 16 × 12"

The vibrant colors of Persian miniatures and illuminated Arabic manuscripts, with their juxtaposition of colorful diacritical marks and dark ink calligraphy, serve as a profound influence on Al Khemir's work. The fluid lines and rhythm of calligraphy, as well as the pulse of Islamic art in general, find their way into her artwork. Some samaras themselves resonate with calligraphic form, and the rhythmic repetition and symmetry inherent in Islamic art inspire her creations.

Traveling across the world in pursuit of Islamic art, Al Khemir has been immersed in the field for many years. She has seen literally tens of thousands of Islamic art pieces. “Essentially, the devotion of the makers of traditional Islamic art was to the work itself because they believed creativity came from a higher source, not from them. All that I have absorbed and all that I love in Islamic art has found its way to my artwork. I hope this exhibition fosters an awareness of nature and its beauty and that visitors enjoy the dance and serenity of the samaras. Bringing together the seeds from different parts of the world holds the energy of connecting people.”

In the words of Maxwell L. Anderson, art historian, curator and director of five museums including The Whitney Museum of Art : “Art historians instinctively draw connections and intuit inspiration. Some of Al Khemir’s compositions recall the jubilant cutouts of Matisse or the biomorphic geometries of Miró. But such analogies are limiting and do no justice to her unique tributes to a humble seed. Rather than settle into a formula, she restlessly and winningly experiments with samara seeds, in full acknowledgment that their journeys, like hers, are global…The samaras are for Al Khemir metaphorically connected to her own migratory patterns—from North Africa to Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and beyond.”

Coinciding with the October exhibition, a new book of 40 illustrations called Seed Art of Sabiha Al Khemir will be published by Ediciones El Viso.

Photo Credit: Adam Reich

Sabiha Al Khemir, Free Spirit, 2023, Seeds from Bloomfield, New Jersey (USA) paper and acrylic on paper Size: 30x 30"

About Sabiha Al Khemir

As a highly successful independent consultant for museums around the world, Al Khemir has worked in various capacities from teaching to curating to directing. She taught Islamic art at the British Museum, consulted for The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was the founding director of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic art in Doha,where her role included building the museum’s collection, curating the display, and establishing a team for education with a vision for cultural bridging. She has directed–from negotiating loans to researching objects to writing exhibitions catalogues–and curated exhibitions for various institutions, including the Louvre Museum, Brigham Young University Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Dallas Museum of Art, the National Museum of Bahrain, Focus Abengoa Foundation in Seville, Spain. She was instrumental in bringing the renowned Keir collection of Islamic Art to the Dallas Museum of Art. Driven by the determination to bridge cultures, her projects were transformational and far reaching. 

As a preeminent authority on Islamic art, her work as a museum curator for numerous international exhibitions has been hailed in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Smithsonian Magazine.

Al Khemir’s artwork has been exhibited at The Pompidou Center, in Paris, the Kufa Gallery and Brunai galleries in London, The British Museum, the Galerie de l’Information in Tunis, The National Museum in Bahrain, The Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, The American Folk Art Museum, The Children Museum in Indianapolis, and the Adair Margo Gallery in El Paso. 

She has also published fictional essays and two novels: Waiting in the Future for the Past to Come, published by Quartet Books, London, and The Blue Manuscript, published by Verso, based in London and New York.

Al Khemir has lived and worked in many different parts of the world. She grew up in Tunisia, worked in London, in Paris, in Spain, in different parts of the United States, and in the Middle East. She currently resides on New York’s Upper West Side. 

About The Washington Art Association and Gallery

Founded in 1952, The Washington Art Association Gallery showcases a wide variety of art in all media. Conveniently located just 2 hours north of New York City in the Litchfield Hills of Northwest Connecticut, the gallery has hosted over 600 exhibitions. These have included the work of notable artists such as Cleve Gray, Alexander Calder, Louisa Calder, Charles Cajori, Tim Prentice, Tom Zetterstrom, Missy Stevens, Tom Doyle, James Grashow, and Robert Andrew Parker. In addition to showcasing nationally and internationally known artists, the gallery also seeks to feature talented emerging artists and the art made by our gifted members and faculty. 

WAA strives to bring art to the community. With special events such as lectures, field trips, workshops, parties, art sales, and diverse educational programs, we hope to enrich the lives of the people of Northwestern Connecticut through art. 

Admission to the gallery, located at 4 Bryan Memorial Plaza in Washington Depot Connecticut, is free and open to the public.  Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, Wednesday through Saturday and on Sunday, Noon to 4:00 p.m.  For more information visit www.washingtonartassociation.org or phone 860-868-2878.

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