The formal and conceptual aims of Mohannad Orabi’s expressionist painting style are based on the inherent psychology of portraiture in compositions that depict a revolving cast of characters. Initially inspired by the confessional elements and sense of freedom that are found in children’s drawings, Orabi has worked without fixed directives for over a decade, allowing the spontaneity of process to result in liberated forms.


Many of Orabi’s early works were painted as self-portraits, and reveal his fascination with the development of consciousness in childhood, particularly the wonder and whimsy of the formative years that first shape our comprehension of the world. Although the artist maintains this interest, his approach to figurative painting has progressed as additional themes enter his work in subsequent series.


With the start of the Syrian uprising and the conflict that followed, Orabi was displaced from his native country and began to depict his characters with realist details as he referenced the various media that are forging a visual repository of the war. Martyr posters, Facebook profile pictures, and other types of filtered or composed imagery serve as source material for portraits of Syrians under siege, displaced, and in exile, recording a side of the conflict that lies beyond its ideological divisions and political talking points. While the artist continued to reference the various stages of childhood, his own experience of displacement led him to consider the ways in which visual culture, social media, and digital communication have become substitutes for what was once tangible.


More recently, Orabi has used historical examples as conceptual prompts while continuing to search for new means of automatism. In his Mu’allaqat series, he adopts the hanging format of pre-Islamic poems that were later written in gold on the black cloths of the Kaaba. Using ordinary curtains as canvases, his childlike protagonists are rendered with loose brushwork against a solid background that removes any indication of a setting. Whereas previous compositions described a particular context, here Orabi emphasises the forms that are essential to drawings or cutouts—media that have sustained his practice as he adapts to life in exile. These latest paintings (or art objects) not only invoke his earlier works but also describe the poetics of intuitive creation.


Born in Damascus in 1977, Mohannad Orabi currently lives and works in Dubai. Orabi graduated from the Faculty of Fine Art in Damascus in 2000 and won the first prize in The Syrian National Young Artists Exhibition in 2006. Solo and group exhibitions include Ayyam Gallery Al Quoz, Dubai (2017, 2014, 2009); Ayyam Gallery Beirut (2016, 2014); Den Gallery, Kuwait (2016); Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice (2015); Ayyam Gallery London (2014); Ayyam Gallery Jeddah (2013); Ayyam Gallery DIFC, Dubai (2015, 2014, 2012); Ayyam Gallery Damascus (2008), Zara Gallery, Amman (2007); and Ishtar Gallery, Damascus (2006, 2004). In 2014, Orabi was listed among Foreign Policy’s ‘100 Leading Global Thinkers’.