Earthly Beauty and profound Depth The Cycle Venice by Zaki Al-Maboren

When an artist looks to Venice, he has to compete with great predecessors. Venice has been one of the most important centres of western art since the baroque period. The most famous painters, sculptors, poets and musicians were drawn to live and work in the city: Bellini, Titian, Vivaldi, Wagner, and now Zaki Al-Maboren, an artist who bridges the cultures of Africa and Europe. As in the works of the Venetian painters, light and colour predominate in the paintings of Zaki Al-Maboren.

Zaki Al-Maboren is aware of these great predecessors in a playful way. He is affected neither by the art historical significance of Venice, nor by its clichéd image. Like many artists before him, he absorbs the atmosphere of the city and paints his own view of things: variety in brilliant colours, sparkling vivacity, glowing beauty and mysterious depth. It is evident at first glance that Zaki Al-Maboren is fascinated by the city’s architecture. He paints houses and facades surrounded by the deep blue of the water. His works are not mere copies of the city, and there are no stereotypical gondolas floating across his paintings. As in all the African artist’s works, colour dominates with a luminosity which is reminiscent of sunlight breaking through stained-glass windows. The Edding ink technique lends his paintings a depth and glow, which warms the heart while astonishing the eye.

The house facades in “Facades / Mirrored World or Playful World” are steeped in a golden light, a magic the setting sun occasionally invokes. The large-scale paintings are interwoven with red tones and traversed by delicate dark lines, in which architectural elements are arranged side by side: doors, windows, pillars and roofs. The paintings are two-dimensional, ornamental and graceful. Despite the illustrations’ meticulousness, they are painted with the natural ease that brings a child’s best drawings to mind. Wasn’t it Paul Klee who said he wanted to learn how to draw like a child again? Zaki Al-Maboren has always retained a childlike lightheartedness, which he manages to integrate into his perfectly orchestrated pictures. They are mapped out with strict discipline, and yet fantastically playful.

Other paintings of Venice look as though Hundertwasser had been at work in the city. “Schaufenster” shows a house composed of green, blue and yellow elements, a construction without straight lines, rising countless storeys high. This interplay of shapes and colours could go on endlessly without becoming tedious, because it’s sheer liveliness, even without a single human being appearing on the scene. To the right and left, the green façade gradually melts into a deep black-blue, which further emphasises the brightness of the house.

In any place of pulsating life, death is not far off. Venice is also the symbol of transience that Zaki Al-Maboren incorporates in his painting “Augenblick”. The artist looks down from above on the outline of a colourful city, which is split apart by a dark stream. Once again, houses are strung together in an infinitely brightly-coloured row. The thick stream in the middle has a very different character. The flowing, dark green-blue expanse stands in eerie contrast to the little structures in the sea of houses. Two gigantic shapes rise up from the depths of the river, their faces like masks, their black bodies nestled to the movement of the river. Time comes to a standstill, and the world of earthly beauty meets the eternal change that carries everything with it.


Martin Ganzkow Kulturpädagoge, Derneburg