• Albareh Art Gallery - Sulaf Derawy Zakharia

Somaya Abdulghani’s paintings, with their minimalist palette of earthy and grey tones accentuating black and white backgrounds, evoke a gentle warmth. Grey thread is woven into the canvas and hangs from its surface in long strands, some tangled and matted, others smooth and free owing. In the foreground, stylized birds with wings outspread dart across most of the paintings. While naturally static, the birds impart a sense of continual movement.


Iqraa. Abdulghani’s rst solo exhibition, weaves together a number of seemingly disparate themes into a body of work that is visually cohesive. The artist combines a documentation of her spiritual growth with epistemological re ection and social commentary.


At rst glance, Somaya Abdulghani’s latest body of work suggests a message of peace. The white birds may well symbolize doves, particularly in those paintings with circles in the black and white background. There is a sense of carefree abandon in their ight.


However, a closer look guided by the artist’s statement immediately preempts any attempt at a super cial reading. The aesthetic simplicity of the works belies the complexity of the message and the artist’s source of inspiration. Iqraa began as Somaya Abdulghani’s spiritual journey manifested in visual form, a collection that is informed, not only by her own faith, but also by her diligent e ort to research and to understand Islam.


In this regard, Abdulghani’s art takes no prisoners. The message is as direct as her chosen title. The rst word of the Holy Quran revealed by the Archangel Gabriel to Prophet Mohammed, Iqraa, is a command that translates into Read or Study. It is an unequivocal call to acquire knowledge. Thus, God has commanded humanity to read, to learn, and to seek to understanding; that is, to eschew the dogma of blind faith in favour of an informed belief.


This rationalist argument becomes Abdulghani’s point of departure for re ecting upon the nature of knowledge itself. Symbolizing acquired knowledge with the strands of grey thread that she has sewn into her canvases, she states that knowledge permeates every aspect of our lives. We create, modify and use it daily. It lives on after its creator dies to be used, built upon and expanded by others. But knowledge, in and of itself, is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It is how we choose to use knowledge that determines its impact. Hence, the threads that hang from her canvas are at times smooth and free signifying knowledge that is used for positive ends. Others are tangled into chokingly tight clumps. These are knowledge used to bring about harm.


Through all these di erent strands, matted or smooth, her birds y almost unaware of their surroundings. Asked about the signi cance of these white birds, Abdulghani reveals that they represent us – people going about their everyday lives. In the mad rush that is life, we are oblivious to how knowledge is being put to use, and possibly, even to how we contribute to it or to its end use. In spite of their distracted detachment from their environment, she has chosen to place these birds – us – rmly in the foreground of her work, which confronts the viewer with the question of whether this is an attempt on her part to remind us of our intrinsic responsibility as creators and custodians of knowledge. This question becomes all the more poignant in light of her main spiritual theme: How far has humanity drifted from that point in time when God commanded us to Read?


Sulaf Derawy Zakharia