An ode to the Middle East in Singapore’s Sana Gallery

BEIRUT: Unfortunately, people often get a distorted image of the Middle East from the media, which depicts a region in turmoil, where the inhabitants are caught between uprisings, disappointments, unrest and a fatalistic view of life. Although that impression may be true to an extent, the cultural and artistic wealth of the Middle East seems to have all but disappeared from the radar in these turbulent times. Although it is the cradle of civilizations and an inspirational location for many exceptional thinkers and philosophers, the Middle East seems to have lost its charm for some people, thanks to this image of a martyred region.

It is this image of the region that British-Lebanese clean energy and climate change entrepreneur Assaad Razzouk wants to change. Living in Singapore – having worked in Asia for the last 20 years – Razzouk founded the Sana Gallery, which will open officially on Oct. 25 in Singapore.

It will be the first contemporary Middle Eastern art gallery in South-East Asia. “When you say Middle East, people think catastrophe,” Razzouk told The Daily Star. “I wanted something fresh and not on the market place for the Middle East, and in the Middle East.”

For Razzouk, there is a lack of representation and promoters for Middle Eastern art. “The image that we constantly communicate of ourselves in newspapers and on television is horrible,” he confessed.

The Sana Gallery aims to be a platform for the Middle East, to help Asian art aficionados discover how many talented artists this region has.

The recent Arab upheaval has served as a source of inspiration for many artists. It is with this in mind that Syria’s Thaer Maarouf and Syrian-Lebanese painter Semaan Khawam have been chosen to exhibit their works for the opening show, entitled “Kisses of an Enemy.”

Razzouk explained that both these artists have tried to represent the catastrophe happening in their countries of origin.

Maarouf’s works play with reality and illusion, showing that there is a fine line between what we think is real and what is not. A press release describes his work as “intentionally blurred by the artist.”

In his mixed-media piece entitled “Back to School” – which will be shown as part of the exhibition – Maarouf portrays a child hiding their head behind what looks like red sheets of paper. Black spots cover these sheets, as though bullets have been shot at them. The blurry background depicts a building, which may be the child’s home or school.

The piece raises several questions in the onlooker’s mind: why is this child covering their face? What does this background stand for?

Another symbol may attract our attention – the delicate flowers in the painting’s center. Do they embody hope, or a renaissance the child will witness shortly? There is no certainty.

Maarouf plays with the eyes of his spectators. He experiments with reality and what we assume to be real.

Khawam, on the other hand, focuses his artwork on the consequences of the events occurring in Syria.

His mixed-media “Thawrat” (Revolutions) plunges its viewers immediately in the context of war and battle. A patchwork of symbols protrudes from the canvas as though forcing the onlooker to analyze each and every feature. Military trucks, grenades, planes, rockets, boats and human beings invade the canvas.

Khawam’s art is described as a “dramatic reconfiguration of families in the aftermaths of the massacres.”

He also represents children playing against a dark, gloomy background, as though this juxtaposition of childhood and darkness were something normal and unexceptional.

Contemporary Middle Eastern art has been blooming lately, due to the political and social changes of the Arab Spring. It is this unique form of art that Razzouk wants to promote in the Sana Gallery. “We also want to show the Middle East as a normal place,” he said. “Contemporary Middle Eastern art is a varied thing,” and should be promoted in all its splendor.

If you’re curious to know more about the Sana Gallery, please visit





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