The emotional work of the UAE-based artist Khaled Khadour

Marie-Louise Olson talks to the Syrian-born and UAE-based artist Khaled Khadour, who is at Art Basel in Miami for his first solo exhibition.

The Syrian-born painter and mural artist, who has lived in the UAE for 13 years, says that the whole thing feels “unreal”. He’s in the US this month to show his work at Art Basel in Miami and then at two solo shows in Baltimore and New York.

“It’s scary, in a way. It’s so exciting, but it’s also scary,” he says.

This is his first solo exhibition; Khadour says that he’s not shown his art in the UAE because most of the galleries “didn’t like my artwork, so I gave up on the idea”.

The biggest issue, however, is that he cannot display his nude paintings here. “Not all my artwork has nudity, but some of it does and I would like to show them all. It frustrates me,” he says.

In early November, he sent to the US a shipment of 15 of his best paintings, the biggest of which are 150 centimetres by 100cm.

His artwork focuses on human expressions and their emotions, such as the pain and suffering caused by the Syrian ­conflict.

An instinct for art

Khadour stopped studying after the ninth grade and went to the Subhi Shouaibe Institute of Fine Arts in Syria. In the UAE, he spent time at the Sharjah Art Institute learning from a Russian mentor, who helped him hone his skills.

He mostly uses oil colour, but says that he loves charcoal, which he sometimes adds to his paintings. He also does “funky designs on Converse trainers”. But if it wasn’t for his father, who is also an artist, he would never have followed this path.

“He was the one who pushed me to paint,” Khadour says. “I didn’t want to be an artist, but he told me I had a talent. It was all because of him.”

His father taught him how to paint murals besides ornaments, ceilings and walls, and gold-and-silver leaf work, all of which is part of the business that he runs with his father.

Most of their customers are Emiratis, he says, including some of the sheikhs.

“Before Sheikh Zayed passed away, I did some of his palaces in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain,” he says, adding that he and his father also worked on the palace of Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed, Ruler of Fujairah.

All their work, says Khadour, is handmade and they never repeat a painting, which is “what makes us special”.

He dreams of becoming a full-time artist and says that his paintings are like his own children: “I’m proud of every painting. They’re like my kids. I can’t differentiate. It’s a piece of you, of who you are, on canvas. Each one gives you that feeling.”

New York, New York

When he’s in New York, his first stop is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he says always “makes me want to cry”.

“I feel like I’m in the presence of the artists themselves – such an emotion.”

He says that his last trip to New York in August greatly inspired him. “I met the people, I was exposed to the society. I love the people of New York, so I have been working non-stop since I got back.”

His exhibition in the US, he says, will “hopefully” make visitors walk away with the feeling of human compassion.

“I just hope they will get the message,” he says. “And I hope that message will enhance or help to say what I want to say and to help people to have more feelings for others, no matter where we are from, what we do and what we look like.”

He believes it’s important for people to understand that every human has their own feelings of pain – no one is alone. “We all struggle, we all feel, so we should not treat each other badly,” Khadour says. “We are human at the end of the day. We’re from dirt and water. That’s it.”

• Art Basel in Miami runs from today until Sunday. Visit www.khaledkhadour.com for more information on the artist

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