The first time I visited Safwan Dahoul in his Dubai studio, I was overtaken with wonder as I looked all around me – the walls were lined with immense paintings, monumental works that seemed to gaze straight through me.
This time, as I wandered back into his world, there were no paintings on the walls or easels. Instead, they had been replaced with miniature canvases scattered throughout his studio: propped up on chairs, piled onto table tops and on the floor. The subjects were familiar and recognizably Safwan’s, painted in the same palette – black and white and all shades of grey. They’re part of his ongoing Dreams series and feature the same elegant species; round faces, beautiful eyes and features, but at a much smaller scale.
We began to chat as I was photographing the studio. He seemed really tired and explained he had been working non-stop to prepare for this exhibition, “Miniatures”, to get it all together in time for the opening tomorrow. We talked as we always do, me in broken Arabic and him in broken English.
As the conversation unraveled, I asked him why he has radically changed the dimensions of his paintings, with the largest one not even a square foot in size (almost only 1% of his larger works). He began to show a few of them to me, one at a time and up close. I realized that the expressions of many of the women were sad and somewhat fearful, and I noticed the element of water. “These are the women I usually paint, but now they represent Syrian refugees; these are the people of Damascus,” explained the artist. “The look, the silence, the fear… there’s always a lot of fear. Waiting for something unknown. When I think about it, the woman––now as a country––has changed. There’s uncertainty, there’s not much there, there’s someone falling… this is Damascus.”
“Miniatures” opens with a reception with the Artist 7-9 pm on Monday, January 9, at Ayyam Gallery in Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai.
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