Heitham Adjina has spent most of his professional life running his own architectural firm and has been involved in some of the most iconic buildings in the Gulf. The traces of this are evident in the Iraqi architect’s paintings, where lines of perspective are often very apparent, and where planes of colour intersect. Yet, amid these clear and carefully constructed compositions, there is an exploration into abstraction—and what he describes as the very nature of what it means to be human.
“I am interested in emotions and how people react to situations,” he reflects, as we traverse his exhibition, The Architecture of Being, at Showcase Gallery in Alserkal Avenue. “I think it has always been my personal passion, to try to access the intangible part of human life.”
This is quite at odds with the scientific and measured way in which he chose to live his professional life.
His career as an architect has witnessed great success, including collaborations with Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid. Yet the man who has spent his career creating built environments has committed his personal life to exploring the lives and emotions played out within these environments. His canvases, although dipping in and out of formal abstraction, usually contain some kind of figurative presence. “You need the body to elicit a reaction,” says Adjina. “Without that, there is no feeling.”
The viewer is then thrust into a series of dreamlike and romantic scenes as we try to uncover the narrative inside Adjina’s emotive artworks. In A Delicate Balance (2016), two figures dance upon a sliver of tiled floor amid a background of floating rectangular shapes. Their bodies, composed of abstract and undulating shapes, are balanced and poised as they seem to float within the mosaic of vibrant shades of yellow, orange and grey. In Siesta Dreams (2015), a female figure reclines on a white slab under a canopy of the night sky. The tent around her is constructed with faint white line that manages, decisively to contain the sky and its resident moon and beyond it the pale expanse offers chance for reflection and perhaps, possibility. The palette of this piece and the strategically placed slice of watermelon and lantern calls back Adjina’s childhood memories of Iraq, where he was born and lived before moving to London at the age of 17.
In fact, it is true that in these 28 pieces, dating back over the past 20 years, there are several broad subjects of humanity and existence, yet they are tied together with a distinctly personal red thread.
Choices (2017) questions notions of liberty, and Metamorphosis (2017) is an image of a small figure from which three or four more emerge. “This is not several people, this is one person,” explains Adjina. “This is my expression of a life story, how a person develops through their own experience.” This metamorphosis is framed with a slight black window, a device used in several pieces that grounds and roots the sometimes rather overtly romantic scenes. The Full Story (2008) sees a silhouette figure wrapping a smaller figure in his wide arms, who in turn is carrying a box inside which his whole life plays out. There is an aspect of exploring divinity in this piece.
In general, what is so alluring about the art is the genuine passion with which the artist has addressed his subject of life and with which he talks about his work. “I started drawing from early childhood and that is why many of my artworks encompasses my personal life. It is also true that now, in later life, architecture is giving way to the personal inclination I have always had for art and for me, I want the viewer find his own thoughts within my work.”
So then, the title of the show becomes more pertinent. The Architecture of Being is nuanced in its translation. Adjina’s being is infused with the talent of architecture, and he is clearly fascinated with the energies and higher powers that construct us as human beings. The term can also be applied to the process he uses as an artist and as an architect, but there is something more too. It is the intangible layers between his subject matter and his talent where the architecture of our own thoughts come in, and that is what makes discovering this, the artist’s first solo show, a delight.
Heitham Adjina’s The Architecture of Being runs at Showcase Gallery in Alserkal Avenue until 12 May 2019.