Safwan Dahoul: Genious of Monochrome
Safwan Dahoul was born in 1961 in Hama, Syria. He is known for his beautiful melancholic and monochromatic works in a style influenced by the Cubist style of Picasso with manifestation ranging to Assyrian and Pharaonic art. Dahoul took his initial training at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Damascus before travelling to Belgium, on a scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education where he earned a doctorate from the Higher Institute of Plastic Arts in Mons. After completing his doctorate in1997, Dahoul returned to Syria and began teaching at the Faculty of Fine Arts and eventually became the prominent member of the Damascus art scene. In the span of a decade, Dahoul nurtured a new generation of artists as an active mentor whose evolving aesthetic often ignited new directions in painting.
Dahoul’s work is a visual commentary of his personal emotions and life, revealing his experience of displacement and diaspora and the conflict in Syria. Since the late 1980s, the artist began an ongoing body of work investigating the dream state. Simply entitled the Dream series, these works have explored the physical and psychological effects of alienation, solitude, and longing that punctuate the human experience at various stages in life. The Dream series can also be perceived as a reference to the dreamlike mental state that characterizes his present situation and also a tribute to his late wife. His colour palette symbolizes the bleak outlook on Syria’s situation, as well as the plight and pain of the diasporic experience. The compositions examine some of the most intimate moments of the human experience, such as slumber, companionship, solitude and death. The artist weaves a variety of art historical and culturally significant references, from Egyptian perspective to Roman gestures and Arabic calligraphy represented in the geometric forms and the curvatures of the lines.
As one of the foremost painters in the Arab world, Dahouls work is a successful demonstration of how contemporary modes of figuration can describe the psychic terrain of a region engulfed in constant fear and unrest. Throughout his career, Dahoul has managed to include varying artistic styles while still keeping to his core identity and style. By utilizing formal properties of painting Dahoul recreated the subconscious sense of enclosure that surfaces during times of crisis, whether in the event of mourning, estrangement, or political conflict. The artist’s recurring female protagonist facilitates this visceral experience through her contorted body, often-vacant eyes, and minimised yet monumental physicality. Depicted in the confinement of ambiguous settings, her presence is defined by the placement of various objects that seem to deepen the state of her disaffection, as even the familiar becomes a trigger of distress.
Given the trajectory and status of his painting style, Dahoul’s career is regarded as a crucial link between modern and contemporary Arab art. His paintings are held in numerous private and public collections, including the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah; National Museum, Damascus; The Samawi Collection, Dubai; The Farjam Collection, Dubai; the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Kuwait. Recently, he has participated in solo and group exhibitions at Ayyam Gallery DIFC and 11 Alserkal Avenue, Dubai (2018, 2017, 2016); Samsung Blue Square and Busan Museum of Art, South Korea (2014); Ayyam Gallery DIFC, Dubai (2014, 2011); Ayyam Gallery Beirut (2014); Ayyam Gallery London (2013); Edge of Arabia, London (2013); and Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (2012).