Abdulrahim Salim weaves threads of past into the fabric of the present - GulfToday

Abdulrahim Salim weaves threads of past into the fabric of the present

Untitled work from Abdulrahim Salim.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Aisha Alabbar Gallery has announced Muheera & I, the first solo exhibition (Dec. 14 — Feb. 15) featuring the works of Abdulrahim Salim. Born in 1955, Salim is a pioneering artist from the UAE’s inaugural artistic cohort, alongside luminaries like Hassan Sharif and Najat Makki. His creative expressions capture the cultural essence of the nation.

They engage in a dialogue with elements of myth, folk tales, spirituality, and the historical traditions of the Arabian Gulf. Also focusing on the exploration of the female form, Salim integrates figuration and abstraction in his compositions.

Muheera & I reveals a connection that leaps over conventional boundaries of artist and muse. It delves into the intersections of spirituality and reality and navigates the interaction between the eye and imagination. It points us towards a past that radiates like a luminous thread intricately woven into the fabric of the present.

The exhibition showcases a diverse range of Salim’s creations, including his mesmerising charcoal sketches on paper, where figuration and abstraction move together in harmonious melody. His full-colour paintings take viewers on a mystical journey. Muheera & I are Salim’s artistic vernacular that weaves the contours of mythology and magic into the fabric of the present.

 Untitled work in mixed media on paper.

He portrays the nation’s cultural past, existing in dialogue with its specific ancient past and broader regional history. Salim began making art as a child of eight or nine in Bahrain, when school teachers noticed that his lines and colours were simply better than those of his peers. After finishing secondary school, he returned home briefly to the UAE, before departing for Egypt to study sculpture.

Egypt, for Salim, was less of a place of learning than one of discovery. Finding his studies unsatisfactory, he found inspiration in the museum. “A museum is like a book, a beautiful book of art,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place for me, like when a child finds a shop of honey or sweets, chocolate or cake.” There, Salim sketched - and went on sketching.

When he completed his studies in Cairo, he came back to the UAE with the determination to be different from and not a copy of, other artists. He had seen the “by rote” regimen in college and had decided against it. “So I read a book of magic,” he says, specifically the Ghazali book of magic.

“It’s very big, a very difficult and very strange book,” he says, adding that he wanted his art to relate to and reflect that book. In the privacy of his room, he began practicing black magic rituals. He stopped only at the behest of his mother. The experience, however, embedded itself into his artistic style. It was at this time Salim’s mother told him of the “true story” of Muheera.

Muheera was a woman who lived in Sharjah; upon rejecting a man’s advances, she is said to have become a victim of his black magic curse. She turns mad, and later dies tragically in an accidental fire. Salim was shocked by the tale. He sought to capture the story in his work; thus an oeuvre was born, connecting myth with the present.

 A panoramic view of the artworks.

It also linked the artist and Muheera — the ‘I’ standing for the artist as well as the viewer. The preoccupation with both women’s forms and their stories in Salim’s work is not accidental. He grew up amid women: in fact, a whole society of them – mothers, grandmothers and aunts, among others. When injured, he used run to one particular aunt, who was a very strong woman, for comfort.

He was enchanted by the experience. Salim’s grandmother was his creative judge. Supportive and encouraging, she pushed him to refine his practice, to work more and to do better. He therefore looked up to the Masters: Salim is inspired by Michelangelo and da Vinci, as well as the Futurism art movement from the 70s to the 90s, particularly the work of Francis Bacon.

Though ultimately the owner of his work, we find in his pieces, especially the charcoal sketches, glimmers of Michelangelo’s muscularity, as well as the deep colours and emotional, abstracted figurations of Bacon’s works. The depths of mythology, the magic of escapism and their history in the Gulf, are essential features of Salim’s work.

His journey has been marked by numerous solo exhibitions in various locations, including the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt. He has actively participated in group exhibitions such as the UAE Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), Sharjah Biennial 5 (2001), UAE Expo in Hanover, Germany (2000), The UAE in the Eyes of Its Artists at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation (1998) and Arabian Colours at the Sharjah Art Museum (1996).

He has received notable recognition, including the State Honour Award for Fine Arts in the UAE in 2008, the third prize in the Al Bahar exhibition in Saudi Arabia in 2007, the first prize at the Dubai International Exhibition in 1994, the Jury Award at both the first Sharjah Biennial in 1993 and the fifth International Cairo Biennial in 1992.

Founded in 2018 in Al Quoz, Dubai, Aisha Alabbar Gallery is one of the first Emirati-led galleries in Dubai focused on contemporary and modern art by Emirati, local, and regional artists. Dedicated to UAE-based artists and producing five innovative exhibitions per year, each show at the gallery is accompanied by immersive activations, talks and workshops. 


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