The abstract art of Ali Kaaf is the result of his interests and dealings with script, architecture, and history. Kaaf’s abstractions are inspired by important cities in his life—Damascus, Beirut, and Berlin—and concepts such as Sufi mysticism and Islamic philosophy.
This solo exhibition features new commissions and a range of selected works covering various artistic disciplines, from drawings of paper and ink to photography, sound, video, and installations. His works explore the fragility and the melancholy of loss, as seen in works such as the Rift (2011- 2023) series; large-format works using paper, ink, and fire, characterized by dramatic burnt edges that create skins, or layers, where the spaces are defined by emptiness. The dramatic interruption in the expanse of the canvas creates a play of oppositions; solid and void, presence and absence, action and silence, movement, and stillness; where a sculptural volume is created through a process of meditative destruction.
In his series Byzantine Corner (2018- 2023), these ruptures occur in the form of knife-to-paper cuts that sever photo-collages of a Byzantine corner taken at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; an architectural moment reminiscent of the artist’s own first experiences with historical buildings in Syria. Contrasting this are two video works Box of Pain (2016) and Scherben Mantra (2014) which reveal the emotions with which the artist contends with Syria today. Using a similar visual language but new techniques, the video works investigate the spatial and visual relationship between home and exile.
At the center of this exhibition, Kaaf presents a new commission titled I Know the Emptiness of this House (2023), a spatial installation reflecting on Qusair Amra, the historical building built during the Umayyad era (between 723 and 743 AD) by Walid Ibn Yazid in the eastern deserts of Jordan. Built to be a hammam (bathhouse), observatory, and hunting lodge, the small structure was constructed almost as an instrument for the purpose of leisure, pleasure, and connection to the divine. The installation relies on numerology and geometric abstraction of the form and scale of this unique historical site.
The installation and exhibition, I Know the Emptiness of this House, is a verse from a poem written by Walid Ibn Yazid, a fluent poet and lover of art. It follows a previous commission by the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, titled I Am a Stranger. Twofold a Stranger (2021), in which Kaaf attempts to deconstruct and reconstruct the displacement of the Mshatta facade.
Ali Kaaf (b. 1977) is an Algerian-born Syrian visual artist based in Berlin. He graduated from the Institut des Beaux-Arts in Beirut, Lebanon, and studied under Marwan Kassab Bashi, first as a student of Darat al Funun’s inaugural summer academy in 1999, and later became his assistant in the following academy. He then continued his studies at Universität der Künste (UdK) in Berlin under the supervision of Professors Marwan and Rebecca Horn. In 2004, he was awarded the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Prize for Outstanding International Students, assigned by UdK in Berlin. He was also awarded the Young Collectors for MAXXI prize by the Young Collectors Association in Rome, and in 2014 he was awarded the Honorary AIR Award by the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.
He previously showed his work in numerous solo exhibitions such as at Darat al Funun-The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Amman (2004), the Khan Ashad-Bacha, Damascus in collaboration with Goethe Institute (2006); Solidere, Beirut (2005); Galerie Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin (2008); Galleria Marie-Laure Fleisch in Rome (2009); Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, USA (2010); the Moontower Foundation in Bad König-Zell in Germany (2013), C&K Gallery, Berlin (2020), the Pergamon Museum, Berlin (2021), and at Documenta 15 in Kassel (2022).