Abstract, figurative painter Hesham Malik’s is holding an exhibition in Dubai, entitled Ilat, inspired by Africa, but in a way that breaks from the typical African stereotypes of tribes, landscape and wildlife and addresses the different philosophies of life of Africa’s people.
Malik’s interest in Africa has motivated him to make several trips to Kenya and Tanzania, where he has interacted closely with the Samburu, Masai, Gusii and other tribes.
His figurative paintings are based on the mythological stories he heard from tribal elders, and capture the essence of the beliefs and traditions that guide the lives of these people.
“I contacted an institution in Kenya that arranged for me to travel far away from the city with an interpreter and interact with a tribe comprising a few families. I spent several days with them and listened to the stories of the village elders about their beliefs and traditions.
“This body of work is an amalgamation of everything I learnt about the core beliefs, customs, attire, culture, mythology and history of the various tribes I interacted with,” Malik told Jyoti Kalsi, an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.
The title of the show, “Ilat”, which means rain, also comes from a mythological story.
“I chose this title because this was the first myth I heard in Africa. According to the story, thunder was once a man, and when standing on a hill, he met a poor man, who shot a poison arrow at him, because thunder would bring fog which would hide the sun and prevent him from hunting.
“Frightened by the arrow, thunder fled to the sky; and the people believe that the sound of thunder is the noise he makes when he draws water from the lakes and spills it out as rain.”
Each painting in the show is inspired by a specific tribal myth or tradition, and provides an insight into a unique perspective on life.
In one example, “Ekwuema” the man is seen crying, while the woman embraces him supportively. “These tribes do not consider it shameful for a man to cry in public, because they believe that once the tears leave our body we renew our energy and can move ahead in life,” explains Malik.
“I have learnt so much from these people, but the best thing they taught me was to have gratitude in life — that being thankful for small things such as every step you walk and every meal you eat creates good energy and takes you to a higher level of being.”
Hesham Malik’s ‘Ilat’ exhibition will run at Showcase Gallery, Al Quoz until February 28.
The artist is of Indian origin, but was born in Bahrain and grew up in both India and Dubai.