London : Art Sawa Gallery, Dubai, UAE
London (2017) is Sara Shamma’s first new body of work since her relocation to the UK in September 2016. The paintings draw inspiration from her early experiences of living in London as an artist and mother, her insights on life as a settled resident, and joining the local community in South London This is a second move for Syrian-born Shamma and her young family, who fled the war in Damascus in 2012, back to the safety of her mother’s home country, Lebanon. The intermingling of historical events and personal circumstance gave rise to works reflecting Shamma’s experience in the face of collective catalysts, civil unrest and diaspora. Witness to physical and mental anguish, her paintings from this period trace the visceral imprints of terror on the body and its expressions. They are figurative evocations rather than portraits, composite characters drawn from real faces and bodies, through the filter of the artist’s eye. These works distil experiences of conflict, whilst touching on the imponderables of what gives rise to conflict in the first place. A regular visitor to London, where she has exhibited on several occasions, Shamma was plunged headlong into the currents of British life. Choosing a school for her children and settling herself into the close circle of parents, teachers and friends in her neighbourhood, Shamma’s most striking and immediate observations centred around the extraordinary contrast in attitudes between her children’s primary school classmates and their peers in the Middle East. The relationship between children and adults in the Middle East displays a guarded deference whereas Shamma discerns a refreshing and joyful fearlessness and freedom in the way her children’s new friends relate to teachers, family and other authority figures in London. This is in keeping with the liberal attitudes of her own upbringing and the spirit in which she and her husband have parented their two young children. Shamma strongly believes that children who are encouraged to express themselves freely and without fear of reprisal, will grow to perpetuate the values of freedom which form the strongest bulwark against civil strife. She believes happy children will grow to become more secure adults, less vulnerable to being led astray. Shamma decided her first work in London should explore and celebrate the spirit of imagination and possibility embodied in the children she met in her first months in the captial. Children from the local school were invited to her home studio to sit for a series of portraits which stand as counterpoints, even antidotes, to her Q, Diaspora and World Civil War Portraits, a visual proposition of what a good beginning can look like. The children were given art materials to experiment with and elements of the resulting paintings and drawings were selected and transferred onto a canvas of a child’s portrait. This was a way to integrate both the artist and the child’s creativity onto one surface resulting in collaborative work. By reaching out into the community that has welcomed and given her new hope and inspiration, Shamma is consolidating the relationship between artist and city. The paintings in this series were exhibited at Art Sawa Gallery, Dubai in April 2017. This series is an insight to a more liberal regime of childhood to audiences in the Middle East and also function as a reminder to the people in the city of London to avoid taking things for granted.
Sara Shamma, London exhibition 2017April 2017