Adeeb Makki is standing in his living room, contemplating a painting. “It took me two hours to come up with a title,” he says.
But come up with a title he has—in fact, 20 of them for a one-man show, Variations on Sufi Themes, on view at the Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura in Tijuana (IMAC) through March 14. Sufis, practitioners of a mystical form of Islam, believe that signs of God’s presence exist within abstraction; hence the avoidance of figurative works in Makki’s 20 paintings.
Cracking the local gallery scene has been a challenge for the Iraqi artist, who made his way to San Diego six years ago. Fresh off a solo show in New York, Makki is thrilled to have found a gallery in Tijuana.
Francisco Godínez Estrada, IMAC’s gallery director, calls the exhibition “a show between Mexico and Iraq with the U.S. as the transit country.” It’s IMAC’s first solo show for an Arab artist, a confirmation of the Tijuana art scene’s maturing cosmopolitan approach and an acknowledgment of how much Mexican and Arab cultures share.
“We see many things in a similar way—from food to culture to architecture—because of our common heritage of Al Andalus [Moorish Spain],” Godínez says.
Born in Baghdad, Makki has shown all over the world, including Europe, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Dubai. Before moving to the U.S., he was also a noted illustrator, curator and animator in Iraq and Jordan.
Makki’s show in Tijuana is a bit of a departure from the New York exhibition that featured mostly representational pieces. As the title suggests, the work shown here is more contemplative and abstract, featuring soft-edged interwoven blocks of velvety, saturated color.
“I love rules, but I love freedom, too,” Makki explains. “That’s why I love abstract.”
Embedded in the blocks of color and traces of texts of ancient poetry are impressions of landscapes and an architectural sense of composition. Makki’s particularly fascinated by how time affects the surfaces of structures, and so a real sense of urban decay shows up in his canvasses.
When he paints, Makki says he’s looking for “truth in another language.”
“I remember my feelings about people and places,” he says. “Color talks to me—it engages the senses.”
And like the Sufis whose sensibilities he borrows, Makki uses music as an inspiration. “It is a very important part of art,” he says. “I always listen to classical music…. When I paint, I feel these composers are helping me—I paint their notes.”