‘When I was 14 years old, I realised that I could do whatever I wanted in painting and that it would be my path in life’.
Sara Shamma’s first solo exhibition in London at the Royal College of Art aptly displayed the nurture and evolution of her early-discovered, phenomenal talent. Entitled ‘Q’, the 16.5 metre figurative work consists of 10 large, individual paintings in oil and acrylic that are connected in a frieze to form a juxtaposition of figures and animals painted on a solid background of colour. They seem to be waiting in what appears to be a never-ending line, echoing the impact of the ongoing civil war in Shamma’s native Syria on her work.
After attending the preview of the exhibition, I couldn’t resist going back to have a second look at ‘Q’ and be enveloped in what feels like a drama in slow motion. ‘Q’ has an otherworldly quality where reality and the ideal conflict; beautiful figures painted in a bold and expressive manner are blended with skeletal forms and shadows. Human faces melt into long smeary streaks and figures seem to be absorbed in their own thoughts. An elephant and flamingo stare passively ahead while a solemn monkey stares out to catch the viewer’s gaze. There are elements of Surrealism in ‘Q’ where symbols seem to evolve from the unconscious; pink balloons hang heavily on the ground and a miniature chair hangs suspended on a string between two buildings.
‘Q’ focuses on what drives the herd mentality and particularly the loss of individuality in a queue. Its potent imagery echo scenes of people queuing in times of war for food, water and exodus and portray the collective pressure on individuals in crisis.
Shamma explains: ‘Death is a part of life and I tried to explore that; the queue is a symbol of how people gather together, follow ideas and lose their individualism. I wanted to show how easily man can rule and control a group’.
Q’s cohesive whole unites through poignant, difficult images depicting death alongside vibrant splashes of life-affirming colour. It demonstrates Shamma’s true skill in revealing the contradictions of society with the hope that we can still dream for a better future. Truly art, culture and society can change the world.
Although Q formed the major part of the exhibition, a few other works by Shamma were on display such as Mother and Child. Inspired by the birth of the artist’s daughter, it emphasises the strength of a familial rather than societal bond. The subject of another impressive work is instantly recognisable as Bob Dylan, a favourite of Shamma’s and depicted here in thick grey, black and white brushstrokes.
Sara Shamma was born in Damascus, Syria and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Damascus, in 1998. She has undertaken a number of solo and group exhibitions in the Middle East and around the world and is the recipient of numerous art awards including the BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, 2004. Shamma has works in public and private collections across the world.
For more information, visit http://www.sarashamma.com/
Written by Tiffany Kaba for luxurytopping.