Michael Halak and Samah Shihadi tell tales of their land through a hyperrealist lens

Priyanka Sacheti, Stir World, March 13, 2021

As I walk into the gallery space of Tabari Art Space in Dubai and encounter Michael Halak's oil painting, The Bread Seller (2020), the first thing that immediately strikes me about it is its sheer wealth of detail, making me feel as if I am virtually there. A boy carrying a basket of bread loaves on his head in the old streets of Jerusalem foregrounds the painting but it is really the minute details which populate it with energy and momentum: a carpet seller holding a rosary of prayer beads, the text on stocking packets, rug patterns and textures, and the warmth of the sunlight. And yet, the conspicuous presence of the soldiers and flags underscores another reality, that of foreign occupation, in this vividly captured street scene, the obvious and subtle meshing together.

The painting is part of the exhibition, Terra (Un)firma, Haifa-based Halak exhibiting alongside mentee, colleague and fellow artist, Samah Shihadi. Halak and Shihadi's works are a study in juxtaposition and contrast; both employ a hyper-realist technique, conveying through a meticulous accretion of detail, the works inhabiting the border between reality and illusion. “While Shihadi's works reflects upon her internal and external worlds as an Arab woman and puts forward a very intimate and particular perspective (relating) to her experience, Halak comments on his social world more broadly,” says Laura Beaney, Tabari Art Space communications director, adding both jointly present a multifaceted lens through which to view their worlds. 


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