Ramadan ‘N’ Art at Art Couture, Dubai ties in the Holy Month with UAE elements

Ramadan 'N' Art is the annual exhibition for the Holy Month at Art Couture gallery. With a variety of artists and a variety of styles, the works tie in many elements of UAE culture.

The artists Cynthia Richards, Terry Onanian, Aarti Bahl and  Beena Samuel. Antonie Robertson / The National
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“Ramadan is a time of giving, a time of reflection, a time of prayer, a time of peace and a time to slow down and think about things that matter,” says Cynthia Richards as she shows me around the annual Ramadan exhibition at Art Couture, the gallery she founded that is housed at Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai’s Festival City.

This year, Richards has collated the work of five artists, including herself, for a group exhibition of works that reflects the spirit of the Holy Month.

Using textures, colour, calligraphy and mixed media, the works are as varied as the viewers who pass through the golf club at this time of year for the iftar buffet.

Hanging above the reception area is a piece by the Palestinian artist Ayham Hammed, who has used his writing to create a series of calligraphic works that rely on the use of colour and form.

The numbered series, which continues around the walls of the gallery, were painted specifically for the exhibition and are an ideal entry point.

Also created with this show in mind was Prayer and Peace by Aarti Bahl. An Arabesque pattern forms the base of the blue canvas, which the Indian artist created with a stencil made from card. Over this she has painted a crescent moon enveloping an image of a mosque. The image, which incorporates all the traditional elements of Ramadan, is also a mixture of the many techniques Bahl has taught herself since she gave up her profession – electrical engineering – to pursue art.

“I was working with a lighting company in India and I used to look at the spectrum of colours everywhere,” she says. “After some time I decided to pursue my passion so I practised on my own, learning, teaching and exhibiting in group shows.”

Flanking her work on either side are the delicate watercolours of Beena Samuel, another self-taught artist and also from India. Samuel has painted architectural scenes from Sharjah’s souqs and mosques. Using layering and emphasising the negative space in her paintings, she draws the viewer in.

“Watercolour is my favourite medium,” says Samuel. “I love colours and textures and motifs. I use the negative space to add mystery to the works.”

On the opposite wall are large and bold pieces by the British artist Terry Onanian, who has dedicated all of her works to the Hatta Rock Pools, in the Hajjar Mountains just outside of Dubai.

“I’ve been in Dubai for 22 years and my favourite place is Hatta,” explains Onanian. “But my works are not literal translations. At the moment I am into colours. When you go off-road you see very brightly coloured rocks and next to the lakes there is gunge – it is these things that interest me.”

To build up the tactile layers on her canvases are all sorts of fabric, from onion bags collected from the grocery store to lace from chair backs that her mother gave her and cardboard from Masafi bottled-water cartons. Part of the charm of her work is that you don’t know what it is. In its abstract form, it could resemble rocks, shells or any organic shape within the natural environment.

Richards, who uses the name Reta for her art, has some pieces from her Woven series also on display. Marrying tradition with modernity, Richards has taken patterns from the Bedouin tapestries common in the UAE and covered them with textured paint, making them resemble woven fabric.

“I have used different pieces and patterns and woven them together in painting,” she says. “It is about their individual lives, their trails, their sorrows, their joys – all woven in the threads. I’ve also used only three colours – red, black and white – to show the simplicity of the Bedouin people and gold detail to represent how the women adorn themselves in ­jewellery.”

To finish off the show are a few pieces by Hammed, who is also showing some traditional scenes such as an Emirati man pouring coffee or a child wearing a burqa peeking from behind a door to welcome in guests.

“We all have a connection with our different surroundings and our work complements each other nicely,” says Richards. “It’s been really great to work together and to have our ideas feed off each other.”

Ramadan ‘N’ Art runs until July 25 at Art Couture, Al Badia Golf Club, InterContinental Dubai Festival City. Call 04 601 0101 for details