Tradition, transformation and paradox are at the core of this work as the individual transitions from youth to adulthood; shifting in outer appearance, social status, and identity. Abdalla perceives this formative and liminal time in our life journey to be a dream-like moment where fantasy and reality conflate. Drawing from regional folktales, faith-based traditions and mythologies, animals are a recurring symbol throughout Abdalla’s practice; most commonly the pig and the rooster.
For Abdalla, the rooster is a creature of purity that embodies forgiveness and innocence while the pig is its opposing force, understood to be sinful in Islam. In the context of her art, this duality represents the moment when one leaves childhood where they harbour no responsibility for their actions into adulthood - a place with newfound responsibility and autonomy.
Inspired by theatre, fantasy, tradition and ritual, there’s always a performative element in Abdalla’s art. Working across mediums, the artist has produced several works on canvas, a series of photographs and an installation for this exhibition. When painting Abdalla typically uses her fingers, a process rooted in intimate expression and the transmission of her energy onto the canvas. She draws from the likes of Francis Bacon, following his unabashed portrayal of the human condition and Paula Rego who captured corrupted folklore through her magical realist paintings.
Like Bacon, Abdalla’s palette is often muted pointing to the darkness and multifaceted meanings that her childhood folktales come to embody while her introduction of pastel pink holds kitsch, gendered connotations. Her scenes take place in intimate indoor settings where personal dreams and angsts might take action. The bathroom is the backdrop for her installations and photographs. For Abdalla, it’s a space where cleansing and grooming rituals, as well as self-reflection, take place and where the idea of adolescent transformation is pronounced most heavily with the body laid bare before the mirror.
As if harnessing the subconscious, Maitha Abdalla’s work oscillates between the diaphanous, vibrant and surreal, and is always marked by an atmosphere of reminiscence and nostalgia. Often evolved into series articulating strong cultural narratives, her paintings and mixed media works are assemblages of memory, travel and human interactions. Informed by exchanges and experiences, her socially driven commentaries on the human condition reveal astute, intuitive observations on the world around her, in a narrative form. A particularly influential encounter was with the children of an orphanage, where Maitha taught English and art. The motifs of childhood began to permeate her work after this time, becoming an eloquent vernacular in which she further explores the difference between the imaginary and the real; mapping the liminal space between these interconnected worlds, she plays out many questions of social and cultural identity.
Maitha discovered her passion for arts at an early age, however it was through art and design courses in London that her understanding of art had flourished. She went on to gain a BA in visual arts from the college of arts and creative enterprises at Zayed University.