Safwan Dahoul's work exemplifies the legacy of traditional visual arts at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus, his alma mater. After studying there under the mentorship of leading Syrian modernists, he earned a doctorate from the Higher Institute of Plastic Arts in Mons, Belgium. He returned to Damascus after acquiring his degree, greatly impacting a younger generation of artists when he began teaching at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Not only has he been an instigator of great change in the realms of contemporary Syrian art, but he has also been a harbinger of dynamic acts of expression during a time of great change in his home country.
Focusing on figuration in most of his works, Dahoul relies on his subjects to relay his emotional and psychological states of being, concentrating on the conditions of longing, solitude and estrangement, which he experienced throughout his life. His work is not strictly biographical, yet it contains a great deal of personal pathos. He is able to relay this through his work by rendering a subject with a highly visible sense of isolation during moments of personal, subconscious or external crisis, be it in a moment of personal mourning, loss or - ostensibly - during a regional political crisis.
These ideas of states of being are expressed in the subject's very physical body. Dahoul mostly depicts female subjects, whose faces and bodies are contorted to emphasise the magnitude of their psychological state. In Untitled (Woman Standing in the Rain), Dahoul's iconic female protagonist evolves within a confined environment that denotes a profound psychological confusion. The claustrophobic sentiment provoked by the presence of a blackened window, which seems to close on the woman's figure, is further enhanced by her defeated body language. With arms tightly crossed on her chest and her head bowing down, she huddles underneath an umbrella while her delicate fingers grasp its handle. As Dahoul's heroine seeks to find shelter underneath her protective screen, the impossibility of encountering rain inside the house leads to consider the presence of indomitable forces. Rendered in the artist's habitual greyscale, the highly emotional scene rises in tension as the female's shut eyes, hunched shoulders and bowed head reveal the expectation of imminent danger. Inspired by the artist's quest for a refuge within his own realm of painting, Untitled (Woman Standing in the Rain) verbalises the vulnerability of human life in the face of the world's unpredictable violence.
(in collaboration with Marina Iordan)