A crowd of masked and unmasked personages with scarecrows, puppets, dolls, and other totems congregate in a distinctive narrative painting by the young Syrian artist Anas Albraehe. In the picture, a nude figure in stone – a sculpture of Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of fertility, love, and war – looms above the other characters. She is perched atop the village locals who call upon the mythical female figure Um Ghraib for rainfall and fecund fields on the occasion of an annual folk ritual.
The theme of Anas Albraehe’s exhibition was inspired from his recent visits to the rural village of Soueida in Syria, where he is from. With this particular painting, he defines his interest in his subject matter in terms of an idealization of the role of ‘woman’ and her supposed proximity to nature – or even more, her interference with the workings of the natural world.
Albraehe is a characteristically Romantic – with a capital ‘R’ – painter. His work reflects a dreamy quality in the radiance of its surface. His painting practice has primarily revolved around representations of workers in their everyday lives, whether in rare moments of leisure, or hard at work. The series of works that he previously exhibited centered around Syrian manual laborers, with whom the artist is familiar, captured in spells of deep sleep. Similarly, his new body of work depicts the persistence of manual labor, largely carried out by women, in the aftermath of the scorching of Syrian lands in the past decade marked by a colossal war.
Despite the attention paid to the object of his study, Albraehe is not a realist. Rather, he is drawn to the manner in which the represented figures appear from a distance as an abstract palette of texture, colors, and forms. He expressively conveys his affective response to a reality that is subjectively perceived as beautiful – as ideal. Lusciously colorful, large-scale, and yet intricately detailed, Albraehe’s oil paintings and live-drawn monotype sketches are, above all, meditations on form.