Salman Al Najem’s Mihrab paintings wrap up Ramadan with Khaleeji satire.

The UAE’s grassroots art platform Engage101 is holding a Ramadan showcase featuring Bahraini artist Salman Al Najem – its first outside the Emirates. A self-labeled ‘creative force’, Salman presents his painted series Mihrab, speaking to iconography, representation and worship in the region.

Content-wise, Al Najem’s digital artist profile will be developed by Bahraini cultural pioneer Latifa Al Khalifa with curatorial input from Gaith Abdulla and Munira Al Sayegh, founders of Engage101. Public programmes include a critique session, and fervent discussion series about worship practices across the region. Mihrab by Salman Al Najem is on view and available for inquiries until May 11 via .

After eight active months, the Gulf-centric Engage 101 is branching out and the much anticipated expansion is not short of characters. In the 25- plus works presented, Salman intentionally places “unconventional characters” in the sacred setting of the mihrab [prayer wall for the Imam, facing Mecca]. “The work is about the Mihrab, the Mihrab is in the mosque, and Ramadan is when mosques are the most full,” he notes. To close off a season devoted to worship, the artist teams up with Latifa Al Khalifa, founder of Too Far. Together they unearth what she coins ‘the Gulf Gaze’ – the invisible sum of forces shaping collective livelihood in the region.

The artworks on view and for sale are spray-painted, a fluid approach towards exploring what Salman calls “the social application of religion”. The paintings are, for the most part, made out of spray mist and ‘shapeshifting’ smoke, according to Latifa. ‘Khaleeji satire’ is at the heart of the Mihrab series and the themes that it explores. When thinking about lived spirituality, Salman, himself, reflects that “worship is a gigantic word,” pointing at worship being a massive practice whose meaning often goes undiscussed. He further adds that he seeks to reconcile “expressions of the divine” with “expressions of authenticity” and believes in “an artist’s ability to document emotional aspects of time”. The artist, paraphrasing André Gide, has a message for the season: that “art is a collaboration between God and man, the less man the better.”

Mihrab comes with activations through which the artist hopes to “create a space for people to feel”. Alongside the online showcase, Engage101 hosted an online launch via Youtube on May 1. A digital critique session moderated by Latifa Al Khalifa will take place on May 5, as well as other engagements on social media. ✤