There is a stillness in the movements that Khaled Zaki captures in his latest body of work, now showing at Tabari Artspace in DIFC.
The celebrated Egyptian artist, known for his pivotal role in shaping Modernist sculpture in the Middle East, has created a collection of seven white statuary Carrara marble sculptures and one bronze piece that embody a serene balance between tranquillity and momentum.
Titled The Journey, the sculptures, created over the course of three years, are stark white and smooth, placed on black plinths that stand on black tiles. The horses seem to stand and glide, simultaneously, in a motion that is about to begin or has never stopped.
“Horses possess the most sophisticated and complicated form,” Zaki tells The National. “My issue went further than recreating this. My research was about the form of the horse instead of the creature itself.”
Sculpted with the lines that have become synonymous with his style, Zaki's horses are more than an exploration of form and movement. They delve into his deep interest and ongoing exploration between movement and spiritual experience.
In 2013, when Zaki was nominated to represent Egypt at the 55th Venice Biennale, his country was also facing civil unrest when current president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, as defence minister, led the military overthrow of then president Mohamed Morsi amid mass protests.
It was during this upheaval that Zaki started to explore the idea that in order to be closer to God, one had to interact with the world through peaceful means.
Already engaged in the works of 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic Rumi and that of Ibn Arabi, the Arab-Andalusian Muslim scholar, poet and philosopher, Zaki's practice began to reflect ideas of spiritual states of being and existence.
The piece he created and showed at the Venice Biennale in 2013, Treasuries of Knowledge, was his most minimalist one.
And if his new body of work shows anything, it’s that Zaki’s understanding of the power of simplicity of form is beyond par.
“I started to find peace in these minimal forms,” Zaki says.
“But it was also a challenge. How can I capture the spirit of a horse and the man on a horse in an elegant way? How can I make it elegant and monumental? I can tell you it's much easier to create a horse with the correct muscles and proportions.”
Horses hold a prominent place as subject matter in art — whether representing the noble classes or warriors, a force of reckoning on the battlefield, a dynamic spirit or a symbol of myth and spirituality.
It took Zaki more than three years of research, examining horses as they exist in works of art, in photos, films and in real life, to understand their form and movements.
“I respected a lot of the anatomy, the rules of the bones, and the dimensions of the height and the length,” Zaki says. “Those are kinds of approvals I have to put into consideration while I'm exaggerating the form in different places.”
It was an arduous process of many trials and errors. When frustrated, Zaki would leave the subject matter and return to it many times.
“I built up and destroyed tens of models because I was not happy,” he says. “God created the horse in a very perfect way. When you close the spaces between the legs, from the front, back and under the stomach, it’s difficult to find elegance there. It becomes like a big mass.”
Zaki continued to experiment until he was completely satisfied.
The results are enchanting.
Not only does each sculpture show stillness and movement, but when viewed from different angles, one sees captured movements in the form.
Stunning, seamlessly polished details — where a dervish figure and horse are fused — meld into smooth masses of white marble. Floating not only in space but also between the figurative and abstract, each sculpture is a mesmerising feat.
“I was not looking to create a horse,” Zaki says.
“I was trying to create some form that was innovative, challenging and belongs to me. This was important. I wanted my point of view, I wanted my horse.”
The Journey by Khaled Zaki is on show at Tabari Artspace in DIFC until November 11