Art the Global Language: An Interview with Mohammad Zaza – By Ana Jasbon


Paint until you have nothing left to say. Mohammad is an artist of few words and believes that the true way of communication is through painting. Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from Syrian parents who were also artists, he got in touch with the brush from a young age giving him an advantage over many of his peers.


Being raised in artistic surroundings, he learned how to express his views via paintings in which he reflects human interactions. He analyzes religion, friendships, romance, death, happiness and feelings, which he portrays with a unique vision on a canvas. Some of his favourite paintings are The Oud Player, The Prayer and The First Question. Although these are his favourite paintings so far, he is very critical about his art work and believes he hasn’t accomplished his masterpiece yet.


Mohammad, having studied at the faculty of fine arts in Aleppo University, Syria, familiarized with a lot of art movements but prefers not to be categorized into a specific art style. He is very open to different approaches and interpretations of his art pieces, but he says most of the people classify him as part of the Surrealist art movement.


Throughout his career, Zaza  lived in different countries and believes that the Middle East, although possessing the culture and eye to feel and make great art, does not yet believe in its true power. He views art in the Middle East as a subject that is regarded as prestigious and part of an environment which is aimed at bringing people together from a certain social class; adding that it should be made more accessible to a wider public. Through a better artistic education, sensitivity to artistic creation could be expanded, giving everybody the chance to feel art’s power of change.


Thanks to technology, which he refers to as a prop for new artists, he has been working on a very ambitious project for the past three years. He is combining art and film to create an animation film.


With a smile on his face he would like to advise new artists to paint without thinking about the recognition, but just to express themselves, the same way you would express yourself through talking. Always remember art is a way of communication. This is why his main goal is to paint until he has no message left to convey.


Ana Jasbon is a project assistant at SAFIR and a Master’s student at Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi majoring in Banking & Finance. She is a devoted scholar, continuously seeking knowledge.



Blue is the color of serenity, tranquility, and calm. Perhaps even sadness and nostalgia. It is the color of the sea; a spine-chilling force that mankind cannot control. Through his paintings in The Aegean Sea series, Mohamad Khayata told the stories of the people who didn’t have a voice because they were lost at sea. However, this series is not dark nor melancholic. Mohamad chose another life for the people who set out for sea, and as he described, these people were having a quiet moment.

Just like there are people who have migrated to Greece, these people migrated to the sea. Maybe the sea is their safe haven.” 


Mohamad Khayata was genuinely an interesting and captivating artist to interview. The mood constantly moved, quietly and quickly, like waves struggling to meet the land. One moment, Mohamad would be talking about home, of his blue room (his studio in Bab Tuma), of the family he left behind; and another, he wold return to his bubbly and humorous self. When things got too gloomy, Mohamad would stop mid-sentence and ask “oh so what was your question again?” He used to draw and sculpt for as long as he could remember, but knew he wanted to make a life out of art in elementary school. He used to sculpt many figures of animals using paste, when his teacher introduced him to a new material; clay. The same teacher noticed that Mohamad had a talent for art, and encouraged him to join many competitions, up until he became an art pioneer in Damascus. 

At some point the principle of the school called me to her office, and I remember being scared to death, because students were never called into the her office unless they were going to be punished. So it was a big shock for me when I understood that she called me to congratulate and appreciate my work. And that was my turning point. That is when I noticed I could make art and sculpting a career. I felt tied to it. And I decided I wanted to go into fine arts.”


When he got his studio in Bab Tuma, Mohamad went deeper into photography. He bought his first Sony optical camera when the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus University gave him 12,000 Syrian pounds as a reward for coming second in his class. Taking photographs was very difficult at the time, and his blue room in an old Damascene house seemed like the only place he could take pictures. Mohamad was pleased to tell me more of his blue room, and said that


“I was tied to this place, because it reminded me of my grandfather’s home, where I lived there for 13 years. This house had around 14 rooms, with a fountain in the middle, and there was something about the walls that drew me. The walls were made out of clay and straw, which are both materials that are very close to my heart. Not like stone, which is a lot more cold.”


In his blue room, the concept of Stitching My Syria Back began to grow. It started with Mohamad experimenting with the camera and taking pictures of himself with the “madeh” (a patchwork that his mother used to make out of clothes).

“I was in Syria when I took the first picture, on the other hand I took the others in Lebanon. They spoke different stories, and the fact that I was the subject of the picture, made me feel like it didn’t work well with the idea. It had a bigger meaning in Lebanon. I felt like it was a way to bring people together. We all had things in common. We all left our homes. We started a new life in a different country. I was documenting all this. It was artistic because it was a sort of documentary of people’s lives away from home. For them and for me, Lebanon was just a transition. We are all just waiting for a chance to return. So I wanted to document their lives in this period. The period of transition. And that was the purpose of the madeh. It was a patchwork, and you’re bringing together fabrics of different colors, sizes, and materials in one piece.


The Aegean Sea series seemed to be a product of coincidence, and Mohamad explained to me how is it so.


“I chose this blue, not for a particular reason, but because I kept buying the same color like ten times. I would go to the shop to buy art supplies, (I love the color blue very much), and there would be so many options to choose from, and yet I kept buying the same color. Many colors with different shades and undertones. And every single time, I would buy the exact same shade of blue. At some point, I noticed how many tubes I had of the same color, and that is how I was sure that it had to mean something. I put the color on my palette, and just painted on an empty canvas. Without much thinking. As usual, I left the top part of the canvas empty, and I started to paint faces. I was painting, and I imagined someone. I wanted the concept to be  about the people that lived in the sea . I don’t want to say that they drowned or died, because the idea of life and death varies a lot.”


Mohamad explained that The Aegean Sea is not dark. He said that if anything he particularly loves this series because it isn’t dark. Instead, the characters he painted were having a quiet moment, and his was merely giving them a different life. He used this color because he wanted to discover what it was and what it meant. He chose a different place for these people, and left the “ending” to his audience.


Being so taken aback by the many details put into Bits and Pieces, I couldn’t but help and ask Mohamad how does he put his ideas onto paper. There are two types of work, as Mohamad explained; direct and indirect. There are paintings where Mohamad knew exactly what he was going to portray, and there are paintings where Mohamad’s ideas were generated from his subconscious.


“In Bits and Pieces, I had a lot of patience to put as much detail as I did to the illustrations. I was illustrating memories. When you leave your home, you start remembering. You think how beautiful things were, and how different they are now. There were moments that we took for granted. We didn’t notice them. You start appreciating these moments more. Now that you’re away from your family, and from what was familiar to you. The time that you lived in before is no longer, and there’s no way to bring it back or change now. I’m scared to go back home. Not because I’m worried that it might be dangerous, but because I’m afraid to find a place that is no longer. That changed into something that I;m not familiar with. Because now, memories are so much more beautiful than the real world. The memories are gone. You spent these 5 years somewhere else, and the time that was then is not the same as it is now.”


Through Mohamad’s most recent exhibition, Umm Al Zuluf, he connects himself as well as his audience to the songs and melodies that traveled along the Euphrates. “Umm Al Zuluf” is one of the most popular songs of the “Mulayaa”, which are the old songs sung by the tribes that lived near the banks of the Euphrates. These people sung melodiously through their sadness and happiness, and with his paintings, Mohamad made sure that the echoes of our ancestors were louder and clearer.

“Umm al-zuluf, the most popular of these songs, is usually echoed by the tribes who transport their goods through deserts and mountains and is dedicated to the Mesopotamian goddess of fertility and love: Ishtar. Due to its length, it was the best companion for the long journey of these tribes who celebrate the Akitu, the spring Babylonian festival. My experience with music made me rediscover my country’s rich musical heritage, the one I got to know when I was young but that I never really listened to. My ancestors’ words of love and generosity, reminiscence and separation that summarized in melodies, times of destruction and prosperity, seem now to describe so well what we are facing today: destruction, sadness, hard work and sometimes, even happiness. In my Current exhibition “Um al-zuluf” I am trying to celebrate the life of the tribes of this area and their beautiful music and culture, which is now the only advocate for the sad Euphrates.”

His most recent work is called “A Woman Selling Her Kids”, which basically is a painting of a woman selling her children in jars. It expresses the idea that there are mothers that  take advantage of their children, and are stealing their children’s time and lives. Mohamad watched children grow in the streets for two years, and realized that these children won’t have any memories other than those in the streets.


“War forces you to do more than that [sell your children]. No woman would sell her children, unless it is a different type of selling. Selling might not necessarily mean actually selling. It’s the idea that there are people who use or take advantage of their children. For example, the women that beg on the streets for their children. And it’s basically a woman selling her kids. She’s taking time from her children. She’s taking their lives. And I don’t think anyone is happy with this situation, but I think it’s what war does to people.”


Translated from Arabic 

Noor Mounajjed is the Project Assistant at SAFIR. She is a book-worm, writer, and an aspiring Economist.  She lives by the motto “when you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine”.

Colours Memories & Sensation: An Interview with Adel Dauood- By Lilya Chigara

Having heard his name among various artists and having researched his work; a man full of emotion, capable of delivering even the smallest of sensations through his work; I finally got to interview the remarkable Adel Dawood. As I was listening to him speak, I appreciated how he communicated like a true artist, with a voice full of emotion lightened with humor.

Having taken up drawing during the 5th grade, he continued to later on participate in numerous drawing activities and painting competitions. As a result, he was his school’s most achieved and renowned artist.Being in an environment that encouraged him to experiment his talent was an advantage he had when growing up. He found himself interacting with people who enjoyed drawing and painting. The catalyst to his passion for art started when he watched his uncle and cousin. He was ‘’was impressed by the family standard.”

© Barbara Süss

Once he was part of the academic art world Adel had a chance to study other artists work and fully understand it which permitted a flow of inspiration that in turn influenced his work “After ingoing the Fine Art Center I was fascinated by Barsoum Barsouma one of the very important Syrian artists” he declares an admiration towards Barsoum’s work followed by his appreciation for Van Gogh.

“Nostalgic for the past, nostalgic of all the memories”

As a Syrian refugee in Austria, once he moved to Vienna he shared a room with 9 people struggling at first, trying to adapt. Yet the main difficulty he sees is that he gets to visit all the cities of the world but his own. “This on its own is a tragedy”. The difficulties Adel faced were external to the frame of his atelier however; very clearly reflecting the high caliber of his paintings. The late ‘Malva’, Omar Hamid, one of the great artists, was a dear friend of Adel’s in whom he sought liberation. He says: “He was my father, my uncle. He was really affectionate, he used to tell me Adel don’t forget you’re an artist”. His ongoing mourning of the loss of his mentor has been translated and projected in Adel’s art work one way or another.

After a little while in the city luck turned his way; a project was taking place called ‘’The Future of Painting’’. The idea was to promote contemporary artists residing in Austria. Numerous artists applied to this program amongst whom was Adel who had been selected with another 21 artists chosen out of 750. However, it wasn’t all due to luck for it was his talent that distinguished him amongst the rest. This helped market Adel’s effort permitting the galleries to witness his work.

” I was subconsciously working on my observations”

© Barbara Süss

He classifies his work under ‘New Expressionism’. When I asked him how his style evolved after estrangement and when he was back home he simply said “You don’t realize it, it’s the state of mind and the place that change, it’s the place that will have an effect on your work in a way or another” When in Syria, his work circled around the set of Ramadiat, as he named it which was related to the houses and the atmosphere in “Sham” as he calls his hometown. He was affected by the place, the region and its colors, in that period he mostly used a color that represented the place yellow, red or green

Adel did not realize to which degree he was evolving, to him he was just adapting to his environment, “I was just working at my present state”. As an inquisitive illustrator he believes that research helps building ones knowledge “studying & exploring is what will help your growth” was his way of putting it.

When asked about the most important period in his artistic career, he did not pin point one specific time frame and instead replied “each period has its importance to me”. Moving to Beirut was his first time leaving Syria, he sensed a certain confusion which has been mirrored in his work, and he believes that everything new is important. “If it scares you then it’s of a significance”. He believes that the leading epoch is yet to come.

© Barbara Süss


“The receiver is clever, he knows where my vulnerabilities are”

There are two types of art work, either sensational or realistic. As Adel experienced working with both when he started through art school he chose to continue down the path with an art that triggers emotion to the spectator. I reveled by how he called his spectators receivers as he had a message to deliver, wanting them to understand him trying to express it through his work. An abundance of thoughts in his head attempting to be lain on a white canvas. He believes that the spectator will see through his vulnerabilities when looking at his pieces. Through these intricate works of art, they would be able to see the frustration he fostered when operating.

“There is an internal mania that needs to be engaged in a contemporary artistic way”. He appreciates when the spectator sees his inner thoughts, with a large volume of emotion and peace, with an infinite abundance of “whys”? “I’m not giving a solution but expressing my sadness in my work “

“There are things lovelier than war, there’s art, there are colors, there are feelings” saying it with a voice full of passion he declares the message he would like to deliver through his paintings. “I can’t say it with a couple of phrases” he struggled, not finding enough words to express himself.

Entering another world when working on his art, “Sometimes I put music but I can’t hear it, a parting occurs between me and the outside world” facing a tough situation at times searching for responses in his work “There is an energy that needs to be letdown”. He likes to experiment and try different things with his canvases stating how “sometimes you don’t know how your work can surprise you “

“You see great important artists that did not necessarily get the academic formation. The workshop is your primary tutor”

When I asked Adel about his opinion on artists that didn’t go to a certain faculty of arts but built themselves on their own, he expressed his awe with these artists in saying that “it’s not really all about the academic system”. When he decided to enter a school of arts it was to get a broader understanding of art; however, he cited that it was not all about the art faculty and that they have a certain advantage. In his opinion, those with an academic art education have a higher interaction with the art world which helps them become better with the technicalities of engaging their work. “This matter is subjective really, it’s all about the outcome”.

© Barbara Süss

When it comes to the Western world ‘’vs’’ the Middle Eastern in appreciating art and artists, Adel referred to the last 5 years in the Middle East as having had important exhibitions; however, in the west when it comes to the market and galleries he remarked that “it’s been there for ages, so of course it’s more prominent in west”. Facing a problem when he moved to the west he expressed how “they don’t take into consideration artist who had important exhibitions in the east, what’s important to them are the galleries you presented in, Europe and the US”. The prices of the two markets differ which causes a problem to the artist when trying to adapt their rates when moving from one the other.

“Sometimes the work is splendid, but it doesn’t get the attention it needs”

He explains how unfortunately, the galleries depend on the market, they take the art that can be sold, they consider the artistic value of a painting but sometimes it just isn’t enough. “Only few galleries take the risk with an artist”. Working at his own pase he never changes his style to please, never transforming his art to something that can be commercialized according to the needs of the market. According to Adel, “it would be a catastrophe if he worked depending on attitudes outside of the workshop” not liking the idea of becoming a brand. “It’s all about what you want” he said. Adel needs the freedom of experimenting and varying his style that certain galleries might restrict. “There needs to be change or else it’ll become a brand, and if it becomes a brand then its commerce not art”. Even when facing difficulties when selling his art, he confirms that persistence is key since after all, “we are paintings ourselves in the end”

Adel expresses his love for Vienna, its culture & its relations “It resembles a lot El Sham” when he left it for a while he found himself missing it “The Austrians are lovely people”. But for future plans Adel dreams of settling between Vienna and a Middle Eastern country, preferably his hometown El Sham “A country with sunshine” he says amusingly “here in Vienna the sun was out for 3 days, and I feel bad for not going out. He would ‘’like to become like a migrating bird spending his winters is in the east and his summers in Vienna”.

Through our conversation, Adel makes you feel at ease when speaking to him, throwing a joke here and there and by the end of our talk he admits he himself got a little anxious, not knowing if he expressed himself right through the words he chose, giving you a little insight of his humble inner self.

I inquired about his future projects trying to get a little scoop. There is little talk about him going to exhibit in Miami which is yet to be confirmed. But what is for certain is that he has an art fair taking place in Denver and one that is to occur in Copenhagen and Bahrain.

Translated from Arabic

Photos by Barbara Süss

Lilya Chigara is the project assistant at SAFIR. A Master’s student at Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi majoring in Banking & Finance. She is a lover of history and large-scale adventures.