Om Kalthoum

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The Ascent of Cello, 2012 Acrylic On Canvas 97 X 146 Cm © Courtesy of the artist & Ayyam Gallery, Jeddah
Om Kalthoum

Bougainvillea Center Jeddah
King's Road, Al-Shati District
Saudi Arabia
April 24th, 2013 - May 30th, 2013

Saudi Arabia
+966 2 613 4111
Saturday to Wednesday 10 am to 8 pm


Ayyam Gallery Jeddah is pleased to announce "Om Kalthoum", a solo exhibition of Syrian artist Asaad Arabi from 24 April – 30 May 2013. 

Following on from his previous series of work "Nostalgia", shown at Ayyam Gallery DIFC, Dubai in 2011, for his exhibition at Ayyam Gallery Jeddah the artist revisits the subject of legendary Egyptian singer, Om Kalthoum. Arabi paints expressive portraits of her that both serve as a tribute to her talent and investigate the wider relationship between music and painting. Throughout his gestural work, he pays close attention to colour: bold strokes of vivid colour call to mind a conductor leading his orchestra through a powerful symphony, or a composer marking notes on a score. 

Though Kalthoum remains the focus of the series, in 'Seat of the Forgiven' (2012) the musicians accompanying her take centre stage. These figures and their assortment of instruments are rendered with loose, fluid brushstrokes, imbuing them with a restless energy. Arabi’s fascination with the relationship of the visual to the acoustic is evident throughout his work; he creates paintings that are a testament to the pervasive bond between the act of painting and playing music, two art forms which have drawn on each other for inspiration and stimulation throughout history. Arabi has commented: “Paul Klee and František Kupka claimed that the spiritual dimension of the canvas comes from its fusion with music or in other terms, that it emanates from the sense associated with seeing and hearing - that is, from the heart.”.

Rather than painting static and posed portraits of Kalthoum, he captures her mid-performance – head tilted back and arms held aloft, commanding the audience. In doing so, he invites the viewer to become part of the audience and experience a collective nostalgia for this much-loved singer. Arabi has spoken of his fascination with Kalthoum’s ability to transcend the barriers of class and religion in Middle Eastern society, likening her to a religious leader to whose music people turn for ‘spiritual nourishment’.

Between 2010 and 2011, Arabi listened to Kalthoum every day while drawing and painting in an immersive ritual which then compelled him to study every aspect of her performance and the musicians who played with her. While Nostalgia paid homage to a legend and the intense emotional response she inspired, Om Kalthoum elevates Arabi’s studies to a major survey of this iconic cultural figure.

Born in Damascus in 1941, Asaad Arabi lives and works in Paris. He holds a PhD in Aesthetics from the Sorbonne University and his work on aesthetic theory has been widely published in both French and Arabic. Selected solo exhibitions include Ayyam Gallery DIFC, Dubai (2011); Ayyam Gallery Beirut (2010); Ayyam Gallery Damascus (2009); Cairo Biennial (2004); Sircov Gallery, Brest, France (2003); Kuwait Museum (2003). His works are housed in museum collections including Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Barcelona Contemporary Museum of Art, The National Museum, New Dehli; and South Korea’s Museum in Seoul; and LACMA, Los Angeles.