Dubai artist depicts life as a young Emirati on the autism spectrum

Abdullah Lutfi, 27, creates his works in collaboration with his teacher at the Mawaheb art studio

Abdullah Lutfi, left, with fellow Emirati artist Abdulqader Al Rais at the opening of his show at Cuadro Gallery in DIFC. Courtesy Cuadro Gallery
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Across 116 canvasses, Emirati artist Abdullah Lutfi captures the highs and lows of being a young Emirati on the autism spectrum.

The 27-year-old is a student at Mawaheb, a non-profit art studio for people of determination above the age of 16, where he produces his work. Made with permanent marker on canvas, his creations are on view as part of Lutfi’s second solo exhibition at Cuadro Gallery in DIFC.

His square pieces offer a humorous look at his everyday life, including food, friendships and family relationships, as well as quirky observations of his own emotions and of those around him.

Abdullah Lutfi's works include his observations on daily life and experiences of a young person on the autism spectrum. Courtesy Cuadro Gallery

These works would not be possible without the guidance of his teacher, Gulshan Kavarana, who has taught him for 10 years. She often comes up with the ideas for the pieces based on her interactions with Lutfi and suggests ways that he can visualise them.

They began working on the series together in October last year. While Kavarana writes the text included in the work, the characters and their expressions come from Lutfi’s imagination.

The ongoing show also includes his illustration of the Dubai Expo site and a lively piece for last year's Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, in which he participated and won a bronze medal in the bowling doubles event.

Abdullah Lutfi's work on the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. Courtesy Cuadro Gallery

Lutfi has been drawing since he was 4 years old. His mother, Amal Yousuf Baker, says it was his way of communicating. “He didn’t speak at that age, so sometimes he would draw what he wanted. This is how he communicated, and it’s also how I knew he was good at art,” she recalls.

After Lutfi graduated from high school, Baker looked for a place where he could further develop his art and social skills. She enrolled him at Mawaheb and he has been studying there since.

His teacher recalls that the artist’s early days at the art studio did not go smoothly. “He was anti-social,” she says. Eventually, as Lutfi kept drawing and learned to use other materials beyond pencil and paper, he opened up more. “He has found himself through art,” Kavarana says.

Cuadro Gallery first exhibited Lutfi’s works in 2017. The artist was also commissioned to create a painting displayed at Dubai ?International Airport that same year. He has also completed commissions for hotels and banks.

Abdullah Lutfi with his parents at Dubai International Airport at the launch of DXB ART. Susanna Dahlstedt

The exhibition at Cuadro Gallery runs until the end of October.