Aisha Alabbar Gallery is pleased to present NO, a solo exhibition by prominent Emirati artist and poet Mohamed Al Mazrouei. Comprised new and existing works that date back to the 1980s, NO becomes a gesture to follow a thread in his practice and shows his interest in language’s dynamism.
The concept behind Al Mazrouei’s first exhibition at the gallery comes from a textile remnant found along the street in Cairo. The artist noticed how this fragment with the English word “NO” reflected his current intention and orientation, feeling alienated, not geographically, but as a personal feeling of estrangement or expression of nostalgia.
Having spent the first part of his life in Egypt before moving to the UAE nearly four decades ago, Al Mazrouei’s work is perhaps best described as autobiographical. The works in the exhibition play on memory by taking moments from childhood and indirectly to speak to how our understanding of language is shaped during this time. When concepts are cemented, the image fades. Influenced by the exploration of identity and inspired by African masks, his work draws on sources from around the world. One cannot look at his female figures without recalling the portraits created by Schiele or Basquiat, nor Mahmoud Said’s seductive canvases, which feature exaggerated colours and forms, ‘adopted’ by the Egyptian surrealist movement in the early 1940s.
Known for bold expressions, especially in his paintings of figures, portraits and visual experiments, Al Mazrouei uses colour independently, free from restrictions or rules. He is often labelled a ‘neo-expressionist’, although his practice cannot be classified into a one-dimensional category. Strong lines and dark eyes delineate his figures. The faces and bodies are intentionally distorted to emphasise desire, petulance, and rage, at times in a provocative and horrifying manner. In Untitled 64 (1998), Al Mazrouei applies vibrant colours juxtaposed with black lines on a colour block background. He balances primitive instincts with mastered awareness to create his unique visual language. Or in Untitled 4 (2013) and Untitled 10 (2012), the faces lack distinct features, and are suggestive of the fading memory of his youth.
Portraiture also comprises a large part of his practice. Whether in paintings or in works on paper, he continually reinterprets a subject using the technique of mixed abstraction figuration. Although created 13 years apart, Untitled 120 (2007) and Untitled 123 (1994) show variations in the use of eccentric gestures and facial expressions, through which Al Mazrouei conveys urgency by relentlessly interrogating the body and suggests self-reflection in blending corporeality and sensuality that poses existential questions.
Al Mazrouei’s “NO” finds recurrence essential: elements are determinedly repeated within the same piece, a subject is repeated in several pieces, or a theme is repeated through psychological manifestation. The artist develops a unique visual language through repetition, where elements are experienced as pure forms, balanced between primitive instincts and learned awareness.