In the Spotlight

Thaier Helal

Mixed Media 300

Thaier Helal is a mixed media artist whose work combines acrylic, paper and sand on canvas. Each painting is developed by adding layer upon layer of said materials combined with colour to create textures of the landscape of his home town. Helal is referring to the landscape of Syria, a land devastated by war and the chaos that surrounds it. The use of an austere palette reminds us of the arrant deprivation, the addition of coal, leaves and rock of a land that remains alive despite the annihilating forces at play.

Helal uses his paintings as a metaphor, firstly, referring to the dynamics of life and, developing his thoughts in more detail, referencing society and social constructs. In this way, his art represents both macro and microcosm at the same time. What it seems Helal is saying is that we live within complex strata of existence, something that requires constant reflection and thought in order to transcend it.

According to Independent newspaper (20 January 2015), Helal was barred from his own 2015 UK exhibition ‘Landmark’. Home Office officials informed Thaier Helal that ‘they were not satisfied he [was] genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom as a business visitor’. The exhibition went ahead without Mr Helal being in attendance.This work is from that exhibition, his first show in the UK and a shift from printmaking and sculpture to painting. His work has an emotive, mesmerising quality that encourages consideration. Is it a mountain? Is it a part of a mountain? Both could be right. Helal has mastered the art of abstraction, and is considered the forerunner in this field in the Middle East. Though inanimate and silent, his work is a performance in itself with often ambiguous overtones. It catches the attention of the viewer, but leaves them to find their own meaning or conjecture over his. What is clear is that his experience with print and sculpture has great influence in this body of work.



Interior of a school, Cairo

Watercolour 1865

“In this scene depicted by the artist FJ Lewis, the teacher is listening to his assistant rhythmically reciting the Qur’an (while beating time), as some children pay attention and others not. Some commentators have regarded the presence of a young girl as inauthentic, but young girls were able to attend Qur’an schools, according to the artist Charles de Tournemine, the scholar Edward Lane and the translator Richard Burton. Certainly not all women were illiterate, and some female descendants of the prophet were noted for their ability to read and recite the scriptures.”  V&A Museum catalogue



Embroidered ‘Prayer Mat’ from Afghanistan

Embroidered Tales and Woven Dreams

This is an exhibition of embroidered textiles which weave a history of the lands bordering the Indus, Afghanistan and Near East.

Brunei Gallery London until March 25. For more information contact


My Favourite Things  

Abdulnasser Gharem ‘The Path’ 2007

UV curved virtu digital print on white aluminium,         70cm x 120cm

Although I am not sharing these in order of preference, it is nice to revisit familiar works of art as well as discovering new ones. My choices are based on beauty, wit, and intellectual prowess as a starting point; no one piece embodies all of the qualities that help me to appreciate art or deem it a favourite of mine. One of the pieces I am touched by is a digital piece by the Saudi Arabian artist Abdulnasser Gharem.

Entitled ‘The Path’, the site specific installation depicts the tragic story of a bridge, a village and its inhabitants who were hit by a storm in 1982. Some 25 years later the artist visited the bridge, which was still in ruins, and sprayed the Arabic word Al Siraat, meaning ‘the path’ across the structure.

As the saying goes, this picture paints a thousand words in a literal, philosophical and spiritual sense.

Fearing that their village would flood during the storm, the villagers took refuge on the bridge. They believed this would ‘secure ‘ their place in this life. Instead, it ‘secured’ their place in the next, becoming their pathway to the next world and standing as a testimony to the transitory nature of life.

Do try this at home

Meditative Painting

It is easy for Muslims to step away from the world and be in the moment through prayer. Although we engage in this sacred act several times, returning to this state of peace throughout the day would be of great benefit to all of us. I was taught many years ago that the essence of Islam is in emptying out and adornment. Emptying ourselves out of ego and worldly pursuits and adorning ourselves with God’s Grace and Mercy through prayer, remembrance and service.

Painting may not be considered a sacred act but when approached with purpose, it takes one’s focus away from worldly considerations. This is because painting connects us to the part of our brains that relate to our spirituality. It is through mundane actions that we are able to be. In the absence of outcomes and motives we offer ourselves the potential to tap into a reservoir of inner tranquillity that resides inside each of us. By combining meditation with painting you can experience presence, stillness and positivity. Bridging sacred moments of stillness with creativity allows us to rid ourselves of unnecessary thoughts and gather our sense of self, with consistency. This notion reminds me of a part of Dua Kumayl which reads: “O Lord, allow all of my litanies to be one single litany.”

With a paint brush, mix some acrylic or poster paint to a desired colour – you may prefer to just use a primary colour, and that’s fine, as long as it is in a liquid form with a consistency similar to that of single cream. This is important because as you spread the paint across the paper you will experience resistance as the paint is layered and swirled. Move the paint in a circular motion and with each movement focus on the texture of the paint as it is pushed with the brush. Focussing on this meditative motion will help your mind and allow you to experience a moment of pause.





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