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Lives in art
by Muhammad Yusuf December 13, 2012
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Swiss Art Gate, the UAE-based arts organisation led by the indefatigable Kurt Blum, inaugurated its exhibition The Art of Life on Dec. 10 at the Armani/Ristorante, Armani Hotel, Burj Khalifa, Dubai. To run till Dec. 15, it is a kind of duet of the artworks of Emirati artist Najat Makki and Swiss national Peter Stoffel. Makki draws the feminine manifestation in UAE culture while Stoffel’s creations show landscapes, often approached in the abstract.

It is for the first time that Makki shows her new work from the recent artist in residence programme in Paris, France, which was awarded to her by Emirates Foundation, Abu Dhabi, between May and August 2012. She was inspired by the presence of international artists in the Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris, and the cultural environment of the capital of France.

Two works, particularly, display works where she has used newspaper and other prints in a collage on her paintings, similar to Picasso’s work in 1912, when he was incorporating newspaper print, postage stamps and other materials in his paintings.

With Makki, it can be said that you can take a person out of the Emirates, but you cannot take the Emirates out of her. Life in the Emirates (she is an Emirati national based in Dubai) has so saturated her, she is reminded of her home country even in the swashing environs of Paris. There is a tremendous feeling of movement in her works. It is that which ties both Paris and her native Dubai together.

“Just as the Emirates is constantly on the move, so is Paris always moving,” she says. She can see an Emirati woman in a statue of Maryam (Mary), that she saw in Paris. Among her paintings are those which show Paris and its lights on the banks of the river Seine and other works which indicate Parisian landmarks. Her paintings resound with waves, clamour, movement and lights.

The Seine turns into the Al Khaleej (The Arabian Gulf), bedecked with aquamarine blue brightness. The native touch is reinforced when Makki imprints arabesques and telli work into her pieces.

She has also exhibited her works which contain very subtle images of women clothed in the traditional thoab. Thoabs were worn by women in the UAE as cloaks and were used to keep children warm whilst they were nursed on their mother’s knee. The pockets also provided a secure place for women to secure precious items which became symbols for each woman’s identity.

Bernd Ruzicska, German curator, wrote about the work of Stoffel thus: “(His) landscapes speak through their colours. Through the skin that sheathes the painting, a flickering, oscillating surface … nuances melt away. Fluids become viscous, immobile, and solidify. Outlines meander along flowing edges. Elsewhere, zones extend and turn deep in on themselves, islands form. Rivers come together, merge and form small lakes of colour.”

Stoffel, who was born among the mountains in St Gall, Switzerland, does mountain landscapes. They communicate a simple, seemingly trivial motif - the alpine view. His works verge on the abstract, and radiate stratospheric luminosity. “All my memories and experiences of space come from mountains,” he said. “My paintings are perhaps like geological maps. They reach abstraction and are crystallised, like lava gone cold.”

He said he does not have pre-conceived notions when he sits before a canvas. “I put colours on paper and work it out till I reach a culmination,” he said. His pictures have multiple perspectives: they look like they are being seen from outer space, but yet have a sense of being seen from extreme close-up.

Stoffel explained the effect this way. “When you cut a stone and see it under a microscope, you can see its rich detailing, like coloured metals engraved in it. My paintings reach for the same effect.” His pure abstractions make use of the triangle, which is commonly used to represent a mountain. He also shows his graphite on paper works, which can be noted for their tensile strength. Every contour, curve and pore of a mountain, can be seen. Surprisingly, his brush with graphite came later than his life as a painter.

Makki is the holder of a PhD in metal coins from the Faculty of Arts in Cairo (2001), and is one of the leading artists of the modern art movement in the UAE. She has been identified as one of the pioneer Emirati women artists. She experiments with different media and has developed a passion for painting and sculpture. Her work is greatly influenced by her surroundings and traditions, with a clear visual reference to her family’s interest in embroidery and fabrics.

Stoffel divides his time between Berlin and Geneva. His art draws on the classic motifs of drawing and painting - landscapes, the ocean, mountains (there are certainly plenty of them in Switzerland!) - challenging the conventions of these classic genres with abstract colour schemes and compositions. He works in painting, installation and various other media.

The exclusive sponsor of the event is Swiss Geneva Bank, which provides high-quality banking services to private and institutional customers.

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