In Cairo exhibit, Syrian artist gives colour to travel

In her exhibition at the Zamalek Art Gallery in Cairo, Mardam Bey presents a dream-like aesthetic and mysterious atmosphere in which characters evolve and stare into the unknown.
Sunday 03/03/2019
A focus on portraiture. A painting by Syrian artist Souad  Mardam Bey.(Al Arab)
A focus on portraiture. A painting by Syrian artist Souad Mardam Bey.(Al Arab)

CAIRO - Syrian artist Souad Mardam Bey set off on a new colour adventure in her most recent exhibition, exploring the concept of travel and its different meanings and manifestations, from moving to different places to living new experiences and amazing adventures.

Mardam Bey was born in Damascus. She studied philosophy and art in Beirut and has been practising art since she graduated. She initially devoted her interest to painting doors, then to painting dancers in motion before focusing on portraiture. The human being is the central component of her work.

She has had solo exhibitions in Damascus, Beirut, Kuwait, Cairo, Paris, Washington and Montreal and participated in group exhibitions in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Mardam Bey spent most of her childhood in Lebanon. She developed an early passion for painting, which persisted even after she had obtained her university degree in philosophy. She went on to study art for two years at Lebanese University in Beirut before moving in 2010 to Cairo, where she regularly shows her work.

In her exhibition at the Zamalek Art Gallery in Cairo, titled “Veni, Vidi, Amavi” (“I came, I saw and I loved”), Mardam Bey presents a dream-like aesthetic and mysterious atmosphere in which characters evolve and stare into the unknown.

The characters are dressed in vividly coloured garments. It’s the colours of the fabrics that imbue Mardam Bey’s world with a dreamy and enchanting atmosphere. Her colour palette is a gradient, from the earth colours that constitute the background to dark yellows, gold and touches of dark red and blue.

She uses colour to highlight the elements of her paintings. It is men and women. Women have always been the focus of Mardam Bey’s work, portraying them as partners to men in life, as well as symbols of seduction, warmth and emotion.

The protagonist in these works is the act of travelling itself. All the elements in the painting centre on this concept. The artist uses real objects such as horses and trains to illustrate and enrich her ideas through wild imagination, in addition to evoking feelings associated with the idea of travel, such as affection, homesickness and longing.

While the canvases differ in dimension, they are united by the dynamic movement that the act of travelling entails.

Here is a little girl riding a wild horse or gingerly climbing the horns of a large bull. In other paintings, we perceive the feelings of contemplation and waiting in the eyes of a group of people. These characters meet at times in one scene or you could find them dispersed among different paintings.

The general composition of the approach in these works do not diverge much from the general line characterising Mardam Bey’s artistic experience but there is a great variation in content.

She said she finds inspiration in her art from people’s faces and characters and from related elements she digs up from the depths of the artistic patrimony but without falling into redundancy or trite imitation.

Her colour choices have a special character inspired by an oriental aesthetic that is generally found in most of her work.

In Mardam Bey’s work, one can perceive a hidden musical dimension and a constant effort to study a concept and treat it through lines, composition and colour. In her art, she tries to depict the current zeitgeist and the visual environment she lives in. That is her obsession, as she puts it.

She also tries to add a touch of fantasy to her scenes and this imbues her paintings with a sense of mystery.

Mardam Bey painted dervishes during a period in which she was most interested in black and white, two colours that have a special charm and that confers a sense of tranquillity and dream, which could be interpreted by some as a tendency towards the mystical and the Sufist.

Mardam Bey, however, denied this and said painting dervishes was an attempt to explore a visual heritage. She said she does not want her work to carry meanings and dimension that they do not contain nor mean to include.

She said an artist’s visual memory absorbs everything he or she has ever seen, transforming this memory into a unique combination with a singular character.

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