Varying between commissioned portraits of the elite with depictions of somewhat impoverished characters who represent a strong focus on the daily struggles, particularly of the impoverished masses, Louay Kayyali is renowned for his portrayals of everyday scenes, most of which seem mundane and commonplace at first, but carry underlying political and social commentary. In the 1960s and 1970s war and associated political upheaval affected the Syrian population’s demeanour, shaping the culture and society that lead in turn to a prevailing poverty and societal marginalisation. Heavily affected by this divide, in the 1970s Kayyali took it upon himself to capture the everyday and the mundane, in a form of empathy that was meant to highlight the plight of the lower class but at the same time celebrate their ability to survive, employing the use of depicting solitary figures that appear within an undefined yet perfectly balanced surrounding space.
In the present seminal work by the artist entitled Ghafwa (Slumber), Kayyali captures that sacred and delicate moment when the protagonist finally steals a moment to rest her weary head. It is clear from her rather simple clothing that she is of a lower class. Clearly the responsibilities she faces most probably as a wife and mother have taken a toll on her, and with this in mind, Kayyali uses his composition to show a window into the lives of the deprived majority, while reminding the viewer of the preciousness of every minute, thus in turn commenting on the fragility of life. The artist’s signature use of masonite serves to add to the woman’s worn down state as he captures her mid slumber, thus instilling in his viewers a sense of empathy and compassion. Although there is an underlying sense of hopelessness and fatigue that seems to be engrained into the artist’s character, it is his choice to capture this moment of peace, in deep slumber, that renders the woman almost angelic – a testament to Kayyali’s deep appreciation for motherhood and the female influences in his life.
Lyrical and elegant in its depiction of a solitary female figure, Ghafwa is reminiscent of a Russian socio-realist style of painting, exemplified by strong fluid lines and subtle colour palettes Kayyali thus interjects a sense of austerity that is highlighted by the lack of extraneous details surrounding this slumbering subject. It is particularly rare to find works by the artist that are of this large and square size format which adds a sense of overwhelming endearment, offering once again a powerful and unique work that confirms Kayyali’s well-earned position within the established Syrian Modern art scene.