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Arab Artist Samo Shalaby Walks the Line Between Fashion and Art at Abu Dhabi Art Fair 2023

Photo: Mariam El Gendy

With the Abu Dhabi Art Fair 2023 running from November 22 to 26, there is no shortage of interesting art to admire and artists to discover, but among these purveyors of culture, a young creative stands out as he blends fashion with art. Egyptian-Palestinian fine artist Samo Shalaby has managed to carve a distinct space for himself as he explores a myriad of fields, such as stage design, costume design, and jewelry, to infuse his work with a certain theatrical flair. Below, discover more about the rising artist.

Congratulations on being part of Abu Dhabi Art 2023. How does it feel to be part of its largest edition?

Thank you very much. It honestly feels surreal to be a part of this incredible collective and to work with such a wonderful team. I’m deeply honored and excited to participate/present my work, especially as this is the largest edition of the fair to date and the 15th edition – so it feels extra special!

Detail of Figurative Theatre. Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art

Tell us a little bit about your art in particular.

My art tends to merge hyper-surrealism with dream worlds. Past and Present. Where dichotomies collide and reflect one another, revealing messages behind symbolism and allegories. Characters serve as truth-bearers, like chess pieces, each telling a different tale and bringing forth unique energies with a gravity of their own.

What was your first memory of art?

I come from a very creative family, so my memories start from early on. My mom and aunt, both artists with unique styles, my sister, whose fashion and interior style I’ve always admired; and my entrepreneurial father, always generating innovative ideas in his work. We were always creating alongside each other. The first time I was truly moved by art was encountering an overwhelming piece by Hieronymus Bosch, and the rest is history.

Detail of Fantôme Fête. Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art

Your work blurs the line between fashion and art. What inspired this blend?

Characters are a huge part of my work, and fashion plays a critical role in communicating who they are and what they’re trying to convey. As someone who wears themselves on the outside, fashion has inherently influenced my work. As my historical fashion knowledge has accumulated over the years, so has its influence on my work and my costume designs. The theatricality and performativity of John Galliano’s early shows, Thierry Mugler’s bold creatures in his 90’s runways, Charles Worth and his timeless gowns of the 19th century, and of course the immaculate designs of Eiko Ishioka have all played a significant role in inspiring me.

Which of your works will we get to see at the festival? Why did you pick these particular pieces?

I am excited to be presenting 4 bodies of work in my show “What Lies Beneath.” Each body of work explores various facets of my interests, from larger pieces showcasing my love of theatre in my 3 “Stage paintings” to miniature works exhibiting my passion for history in 55 antique frames dating from the 16th century to the 1930s. I have a new series of 4 paintings titled “Curtain Call” that I’ll be revealing for the first time in person at the fair, hinting at a new direction I’d like to explore. Additionally, I will showcase two photographs from my latest series, “Dante’s Dream.” They have all been a long time in the making.

Detail of The Masquerade. Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art

Every artist has a story. What do you wish to tell the world with your art?

My art tells simple to complicated stories, it depends on where you look. Narrative building and symbolism are integral to why I create. To scream in whispers of paint. Everything is meticulously thought through to build context and curiosity. The message, whatever it may be, is always packaged in crowds of excess, allowing the audience to decipher its meaning to them personally over time. As for me, it can be quite a personal exploration process, a form of therapy.

As an artist, are there any creatives whose works you are looking forward to see at Abu Dhabi Art?

Besides the two artists I have been working alongside throughout this journey, I am very excited to experience the fair this year and grateful to showcase my work alongside some of the best in the region and from around the world.

As an Arab artist, what is your hope for budding creatives in the region?

My hopes for Arab creatives in the region are to always create authentically and to dissolve the cultural demise imposed by the West. To have genuine representation, especially in today’s political climate, is crucial. To open the world’s eyes to our vast versatility and creativity as a people, rather than succumbing to stereotypes and expectations. To forever amplify our voices and visions rather than just meeting a quota.

Detail of The Other Woman. Photo: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art

How do your roots and your culture come into play when creating art?

Arab culture’s beautiful maximalist approach, in acts of love or creativity, has always influenced me. Mixing things that don’t initially make sense, from eras and styles to colors and costumes. It taught me to be brave and impulsive throughout my artistic journey, and that too much doesn’t really exist in my mind. My art, however, doesn’t always reflect where I come from but rather the worlds I would like to create and inhabit.

Lastly, what’s one thing you’re most looking forward to at Abu Dhabi Art?

To finally present my work in its desired environment. It will be my first time creating a habitat for my work to thrive in. From all the white walls I’ve seen, to a theatrical world of mystery. Set design has always been integral to my creative process, but instead of appearing only in my paintings and photography, this is my chance to build a world in the physical realm. To complement the works and immerse the viewer into an experience rather than just a gallery space. Playing with interiors and audio, the atmosphere submerges visitors into the dimensions of my universe.

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