A pioneer of incorporating heritage subject matter into Arab modern art, Adham Ismail was credited as the first Syrian artist to move away from realism by experimenting with abstraction. Involved with the populist movements at the time, he desired to bring about change by igniting conversations about Arab identity, creative spirit and politics. Writing to a fellow artist, he once explained: “We want to resurrect this originary genius, setting it forth within the currents of international art, colouring them with its spirit, and making the Arab east into a source for abiding, vital art.”
Born in Antakya (Antioch), Adham Ismail (1922–1963) graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Rome in 1956, after being awarded a scholarship by the Italian government. He taught at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Damascus University and served as an art advisor for a short time in the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.
During the course of his career, Ismail addressed contemporary, local and regional topics such as chivalry, freedom, revolution and the Arab struggle, in addition to many historical themes. In his distinct style, he used continuous lines to form colour spaces that suggest volume. Drawing inspiration from calligraphy, the curvy shapes and soft arcs in his work have a graceful fluidity, forming bodies or depicting scenes.
During his life, Ismail’s works were shown widely in group exhibitions and acquired by the Syrian Ministry of Culture, National Museum in Damascus, Samawi Collection, and Dummar Museum. One of the most prominent art education centres in Syria was named in his honour: the Adham Ismail Center for Fine Arts.