Naim Ismail

Citing scenes from daily life, the paintings of Naim Ismail contributed to a movement in Syria to cultivate a sense of national consciousness through visual culture. Born in the northwestern city of Antioch, Ismail moved south during Syria’s annexation by Turkey in 1939. Syria’s independence from French mandate in 1944 ushered in a peak period of art production where artists experimented with numerous techniques, styles and subjects.

Ismail’s older brother Adham, although better known despite his early death, was one of the first modern artists to break free from purely representational artwork by integrating calligraphic signs and abstraction. Ismail’s practice connects past and present through depictions of everyday life, using modernist sensibilities and referencing traditional design. In his 1956 untitled painting, Ismail captures a village scene with a man in traditional Arab attire sitting idly on a doorstep, while a fully veiled woman enters the foreground with a sack of dried goods. His genre scenes often combine Islamic influences, including geometric motifs and defined representational forms.

After receiving formal art training in Istanbul and Rome, Ismail settled in Damascus to work as an artistic director for a magazine before acceding to a high post within the Ministry of Culture in the 1970s.