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Leila Heller Gallery Dubai is presenting a solo exhibition, Nuqta: The Diacritic by Abdul Qader Al Rais, a pioneer of contemporary Emirati art and one of the country’s most iconic artists.

The show’s title refers to the artist’s signature motif, the nuqta or diacritic marking used in the Arabic script, which unlike the circular dot in Latin scripts is a diagonal definitive square.

A prominent presence in his vibrant abstract paintings, the nuqta represents the relationship between geometry and language, and a portal into the rich culture and heritage of this region.

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Al Rais is a self-taught artist. He was born in Dubai in 1951 and got interested in art when he went to live with his sister in Kuwait at the age of 14. Kuwait was going through a cultural renaissance at the time and he became a regular visitor to Al Marsam Al Hurr, the free studio, where he met other artists and had access to free art materials and books on art.

He was influenced by the work of Italian and Dutch masters and French Impressionists as well as by his interactions with key figures in the region’s modern art movement such as Khalifa and Lidia Kattan, and Sami Mohammad.

Al Rais is known as a master of colour and one of the best watercolourists in the region.

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He is a founding member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society and has won many awards for his work including the inaugural Shaikh Khalifa Prize for Art and Literature. His murals can be seen at the Dubai Airport, in Dubai Metro carriages, the Etihad Museum and at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.

He was featured in the UAE Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale and his work is in the permanent collections of prestigious international museums. His long and distinguished career has been recognised by retrospectives at the Sharjah Art Museum and the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris.

After returning to the UAE in the 1960s the artist’s early work was inspired by his love for the UAE’s landscape and traditional Emirati architecture. While his contemporaries focused on conceptual art, he enjoyed creating romantic, realistic depictions of his surroundings.

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Al Rais took a hiatus from art during the 1970s and in the 1980s he began focusing on political themes such as the first Palestinian Intifida and the Gulf War creating emotionally charged figurative works in his distinctive style. A decade later he turned to abstraction and calligraphy, marking the beginning of a period characterised by meditative, mystical paintings that set up a dialogue between abstraction and local cultural heritage.

The show presents his large-scale watercolour on paper and oil on canvas paintings created over the last three decades. These include modernist calligraphic works featuring letters surrounded by fields of vibrant colours evoking the sound of the Arabic language as well as the tranquillity of communicating with the divine.

In other works, he has combined calligraphic letters with abstracted depictions of mountains, deserts, and seashores to create soulful studies of colour, form, light, and movement that capture the beauty of the Emirati landscape and his love for it.

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The show also includes some paintings of traditional Arabian architecture, antique doorways and palm trees. The artist’s colourful and harmonious compositions are all beautiful and uplifting, but perhaps in this time of a global pandemic and a Ramadan observed under social restrictions the most appealing paintings in this show are from his ongoing Serenity series.

These abstract paintings in soothing blues evoke a sense of peace and positivity, highlighting the power of art to help us deal with the stressful realities of today.

Go online for a virtual 3D tour of the show, running at Leila Heller Gallery Dubai until September 15.