Ayyam Gallery Dubai (11, Alserkal Avenue) presents “Still Dreaming”, the solo exhibition of seminal painter Safwan Dahoul. A selection of new works from the artist’s ongoing Dream series is highlighted in this large-scale exhibition, including several mural-sized canvases.
Although he began the influential body of work nearly three decades ago, Dahoul’s featured paintings reveal several recent changes in both the narrative of the series and his aesthetic. In 2015, Dahoul began isolating his recurring figure in ambiguous settings, releasing her from darkened cityscapes and barren landscapes that resemble actual sites in Syria. This transition began with scenes of his heroine wading through a fog-covered sea and progressed to images of falling rain that indicate a raging tempest. In these examples and the works that followed, Dahoul depicts his female protagonist against a flat white background, an effect that alludes to radiating light, and renders her face and body with gradations of greys illuminated by soft highlights.
The meaning of the artist’s inverted color scheme is left open to interpretation. The heavy usage of white can be understood as an indication of hope, or rebirth, a departure from the blackened sky or dim interiors that once enveloped his figures. Yet at the same time, white is the recognised color of Muslim burial shrouds, signaling death, or mourning. Dahoul intentionally leaves the meaning of this detail to be resolved in the mind of the viewer, and only provides subtle clues that register how this latest chapter unfolds. A small paper boat, for example, is depicted in several works, evoking the war-induced mass exodus and migration that have altered Syria forever.
Time and space are unbroken, continuing from one painting to the next, and in each composition there is a visible sense of melancholy. Dahoul’s figure, however, appears to have grown in size, her once slender body now muscular in form. In compositions such as Dream 116 she appears mechanical, her head, limbs, and torso pieced together as an assemblage of shapes as she leans towards a black circle that contains a glimpse of the Milky Way. As she seems to look down at what she has left behind, her kohl eye—patterned after the ancient Egyptian model—has become hollow again, perhaps an indication, as in earlier works, of receding life.