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Abdul Qader Al Rais: Nuqta - The Diactric


March 23 – September 15, 2020

Serenity Series, 2008-2009, Watercolor on paper

Serenity Series, 2008-2009

Watercolor on paper

155 x 105 cm

Serenity Series, 2018, Watercolor on paper

Serenity Series, 2018

Watercolor on paper

105 x 75 cm

Calligraphy Series, 2017, Watercolor on paper

Calligraphy Series, 2017

Watercolor on paper

105 x 75 cm

Alsamaer Series, 2019, Watercolor on paper

Alsamaer Series, 2019

Watercolor on paper

257 x 157 cm

Untitled, 2019, Watercolor on paper

Untitled, 2019

Watercolor on paper

257 x 157 cm

Press Release

Leila Heller Gallery is pleased to present its first ever solo exhibition of the pioneering Emirati Artist Abdul Qader Al Rais in Nuqta: The Diacritic. On view March 23rd to  September 15th Nuqta: The Diacritic presents a series of the artist’s paintings across his  third period of his work, which is marked by his engagement with bringing abstraction and local cultural heritage into dialogue. Al Rais incorporates the contours of calligraphy as well as the rocky cliffs, deserts, and shores of the region’s unique natural world into his rigorous study of the fundamental elements of color, form, and light. The works exhibited range from oil on canvas to watercolor on paper, and offers a painterly alternative to current understandings of the UAE’s art history as rooted in highly concept-based and anti-aesthetic installations.


The show’s title, Nuqta, derives from the diacritical marking used in Arabic script, which in stark opposition to the use of circular dotting in Latin scripts, is a diagonal definitive square, and often a central motif in Al Rais’ paintings. Appearing in an enlarged size, and contrasting with the sway of the smaller, surrounding curving letters, the Nuqta takes on an authoritative presence, adding a surrealist element by distorting the viewer’s sense of dimension, while recalling the relationship between geometry and language and its potential role in abstraction.



Beginning painting in 1964, at a time of limited cultural infrastructure, the self-taught artist struggled to access paint, and was isolated from international markets and Eurocentric forums of critique. Instead, Al Rais’ practice is informed by Gulf traditions of representations of the divine, culture and community, and is grounded in humility. Spending his youth in Kuwait in the 60’s and 70’s, while the country experienced an artistic and literary renaissance, he often visited Al Marsam Al Hurr, a studio and meeting point for artists, and encountered key figures in the Gulf modern art movement, including Sami Mohammed, and Khalifa and Lidia Qattan. Al Rais’ early works were representational and rooted in realism, where he mostly depicted traditional Emirati landscapes and architecture. The artist then took a hiatus from 1974 until the 1980’s, where his work began to take on political themes, and was particularly responsive to the first Palestinian Intifada, which is seen as the artist’s second period.


In the 90’s, Al Rais increasingly turned to abstraction and calligraphy, marking his third period, recognizing their shared meditative and spiritual qualities. Revitalizing calligraphy with a modernist take on the age-old tradition, singular letters are repeated and engulfed in color fields, and incite a sense of synesthesia, where the guttural sounds of the Arabic languages are celebrated and emphasized.



Abdul Qader Al Rais was born in 1951 in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, twenty years before the country was formed, and is considered one of the most iconic painters of the country. Al Rais received a Bachelor of Sharia Law from the United Arab Emirates University in 1982. A founding member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society, retrospectives of Rais' extensive artistic career have been held at the Sharjah Art Museum, and the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute. The artist was featured in the UAE Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, and his work is currently held by The British Museum, the Louvre, the Northwest Museum of Culture and Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, and the Museum of Modern Art in New Delhi. Al Rais work has also been displayed at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, and his public murals can be found in the Dubai Airport and the Dubai Metro. Among his numerous awards are the Sheikh Khalifa Prize for Art and Literature, Abu Dhabi (2006); Golden Palm Award, Gulf Cooperation Council Art Exhibition, Doha (1999); first prize at The UAE in the Eyes of Its Artists, Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation (1999); Sultan Al Owais Award for Scientific Studies and Creativity, Dubai (1992, 1994, 1996) and first prize at the UAE Exhibition in China (1991).