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Life in black and white

Abdullah Lutfi’s canvasses are filled with buildings, people, animals and words that reveal his keen sense of observation, as well as his quirky sense of humour

  • Abdullah Lutfi, Al Dhafra FestivalImage Credit:
  • Abdullah Lutfi, Views of the AjuzImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Young Emirati artist Abdullah Lutfi is presenting his first solo show, The A.L.’s Solo of B/W at the Cuadro gallery. The artist’s distinct style is inspired by Japanese Manga comics.

Using a black marker on canvas he creates interesting narratives about what he sees around him. His canvasses are filled with buildings, people, animals and words that reveal his keen sense of observation, as well as his quirky sense of humour. For this show he has created a series of large black and white drawings portraying his unique perspective on life in Dubai.

“My paintings are about the people I meet and the things I see around me. I love my country, and my city and I want to show how people coming from around the world are enjoying a good life here,” Lutfi says.

With the typical Emirati spirit of hospitality, Lutfi has filled his canvas with a variety of people, of different nationalities and backgrounds, and speaking different languages, in a work titled, Welcome to Dubai.

Reflecting the city’s multicultural community, but with his own humorous touch, he has included a medieval knight dressed in full armour, a turbaned Sikh dancing the bhangra, and lots of tourists with cameras and selfie sticks excitedly capturing landmarks around the city.

People with disabilities are also an integral part of this happy community, and the artist invites them all to enjoy the various delights Dubai offers, such as camping in the desert, belly dancing, dune buggies, street performers, surfing and relaxing on the beach.

In other works, such as Inexhaustible Dubai, Lutfi has depicted the hustle and bustle of Dubai, and the impressive skyline of the city. A whimsical touch that Dubai residents will love, is the inclusion of a roaring tiger on a leash, and a pet tiger peering out of the window of a car in the chaotic mass of people going about their daily routines.

The artist offers his take on contemporary Emirati society in Views of the Ajuz, where three elderly Emirati women, depicted in traditional attire in a traditional Emirati home, look disapprovingly at a group of fashionable, brand conscious, selfie-obsessed young women, out shopping with an entourage of stressed out nannies, and junk food loving children.

Lutfi has also taken inspiration from the camel races and beauty pageants that are an important part of his culture. In, Yala Jamal, he has recreated the scene at the races, complete with camels prodded on by robots, and detailed depictions of the audience, both at the venue, and on the sand dunes around it.

In another work, he takes a light-hearted look at camel beauty pageants by weaving together various scenes from the Al Dhafra Festival to create a humorous narrative.

The characters in this tableaux include glamorous camels pouting for the camera, and contemplating eyelash extensions; not so eager ones being cajoled by their owners to participate; a person studying the criteria for judging a camel’s beauty; and the owner of the winner jumping with joy at becoming a millionaire, while his puzzled camel stands on the podium wondering if it can eat the cash.

Lutfi, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), got the opportunity to hone his artistic skills after he joined Mawaheb for Beautiful People, a studio for the determined ones. With the guidance of Mawaheb’s art instructor, Gulshan Kavarana, he has blossomed into a confident and creative artist and developed his own distinct style.

“Abdullah was 19 years old when he came to Mawaheb, and we have seen him evolve tremendously as an artist over the last five years. He is an amazing talent, with a quirky sense of humour, and when we encouraged him to express himself freely on canvas, he simply created magic. ASD is the reason behind his attention to detail, so being on the spectrum is an advantage for him as an artist. While preparing for this show, we watched documentaries on camel racing and beauty pageants, and had long discussions about his observations and interpretations of the world around him. But I have never tried to influence him or let others do so, because it is important that he should retain his distinct, individual style,” Kavarana says.

Wemmy de Maaker, founder of Mawaheb adds, “Our aim at Mawaheb was to use art as a medium to teach life skills to the determined ones, and to help them integrate better in society. But when we realised that we had amazing talents, such as Abdullah, we did everything we could to help them realise their potential. We are proud and happy that leading galleries have hosted group exhibitions by our artists, and that two of our artists have had solo shows in Dubai, and are represented by prominent galleries here, who look at them as artists without the tag of disability.”

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.

The A.L.’s Solo of B/W will run at Cuadro gallery, DIFC, until October 10.