Syria, works in Dubai, born 1970
Map of the Memory
Acrylic and collage on canvas
The Dress of the Poem
Acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of the artist
Commissioned by the University of Michigan Museum of Art for Watershed
In these two paintings, Khaled Al-Saa’i translates texts about the Great Lakes watershed—a source of inspiration for his practice—into a swirling sea of calligraphic forms that suggest the movement and experience of water. In Map of the Memory (right), he interweaves photographs of the Great Lakes region, where he spent three years, with the first letters of the names of each Great Lake rendered in Arabic. His combination of image and text evokes his joyful memories of swimming in both the Great Lakes and, as a child, in the once-mighty Euphrates River in his hometown of Mayadeen, Syria. Now severely affected by drought, Syria is experiencing water scarcity that has curtailed agricultural production and caused economic instability, further exacerbating the effects of more than a decade of civil war.
In The Dress of the Poem (left), Al-Saa’i creates a dynamic conversation between artists representing the Great Lakes. The painting is inspired by Ann Arbor-based poet Keith Taylor’s Sea and Rain: Lake Michigan (2014) (below)—which was, in turn, inspired by UMMA’s painting Sea and Rain (1865) by American artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834–1903). Al-Saa’i translates the poem into fluid calligraphic forms, creating what he calls a “universe of words” in which the lines of poetry depict a lake’s waves.
Sea and Rain: Lake Michigan
There is a dance at water’s edge,
a movement between the lake, its sand
and the horizon where lake becomes cloud.
Between those lines our world’s
a thin wash of muted tones, beige
and gray with a hint of white,
almost abstract, until the dancer
steps out into the pool.
She makes the whole thing real.
بحيرة ومطر :بحيرة ميشيغان
قصيدة :كيث تيلور
ثمةَ رقصة عند حدود الماء
حركة بين البحيرة
حيث تصير البحيرة سحاباً
بين تلك الأسطر عالمنا
نقعُ خفيف من ألوان باهتة
بيج و رمادي. مع ومضة من بياض
شبه مجرد، إلى أن تطأ
خطى الراقصة حوض الماء
لتجعل الكل حقيقةترجمة : رشيد اعدناني.
Translated by Rachid Aadnani