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Painting (MA)

Shadi Al-Atallah

Shadi Al-Atallah (b. 1994) is London based Saudi Arabian multi-disciplinary artist. They completed their BA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts. Their life-sized dynamic self-portraits explore mental health, queerness and racial identity, inspired by spiritual practices, family history and their childhood in Saudi Arabia.

Solo Exhibitions

2021 Upcoming, Guts Gallery 

2019 Fuck I’m Stuck, J Hammond Projects, London (UK) 

2018 Roadblocks, Cob Gallery, London (UK)

Selected Group Exhibitions

2021 Guts Gallery Introducing, The Shop at Sadie Coles HQ, London (UK)

2020 Begin Again, Guts Gallery, London (UK)  

2020 Paintings on, and, with paper, Cob Gallery, London (UK) 

2020 When Shit Hits the Fan, Guts Gallery, London (UK) 

2020 NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT, Public Gallery, London (UK) 

2020 Alter Ego, Unit London, London, (UK) 

2020 Without a Painter, The Fitzrovia Gallery, London, (UK) 

 2019 The Head The Hand, Blank Projects, Cape Town, (South Africa)  

2019 Sharks, Swim Gallery, San Francisco, (US) 

2019 Absinthe, Collectivending, Spit and Sawdsut, London, (UK) 

2018 AFROPUNK x 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning Present: People Art Resistance, London (UK) 

2018 LDN WMN, Tate Collective, public commission, London, (UK) 

2018 BBZ BLK BK, Copeland Gallery, London (UK) 

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Painting (MA)

The curiosity towards painting human bodies came to me during the last year of my undergraduate studies. I was pursuing illustration at the time and was feeling a deep sense of detachment and dissatisfaction. I had recurring nightmares of a rollercoaster that would take me from freezing cold ice to a burning hot inferno, repeatedly, finally landing me into a lukewarm dark lake interspersed with various body parts and limbs. I often awoke from these dreams with a feeling that my heart had come to a stop, over and over. These fears began permeating my body, my stomach, chest, muscles, head were embodying these fears. In the back of an ambulance, the EMT asks me if I had taken any drugs before going to bed, the heart rate monitor read ‘180’. He is in disbelief when I say that I hadn’t.

The points I felt the most detached from my own body were the points it was yelling for attention, it was as if my fears were seeping out, asking to be noticed.

In one of my lowest points, a moment when it felt like my anxieties were eating me alive, I laid a piece of canvas on the floor of my bedroom, and I began to paint with what acrylic paint I had around. I was so consumed with my physical feelings that I couldn’t think of painting anything other than a body. It was as if I had entered a trance. When I stepped back, I looked at the canvas and it was my body, but warped and fragmented. I felt a light run through me, a feeling of relief. It was as if my body was thanking me for acknowledging it.

Dipped myself a little too deep — Mixed media on un-stretched linen 160cm x 100cm

That cathartic emotion in painting became one of the main points of focus in my practice. I researched and examined the history of cathartic practices especially in Saudi Arabia, my place of birth. I began painting from footage of a specific type of Zar dance in my region which was carried on by former enslaved people of East African descent, where their bodies would fall, rise, and sometimes convulse to the sound of drums, overcome by a ‘spirit.’

These mental collages I formed of other faces, bodies and memories became my self-portraits. My process is to determine what imagery is in tune with my current emotion at the time. That imagery is imprinted onto my brain, and I begin to build a physical memory of what it should look like, with my hands and arms, then I begin to paint, rapidly, before the images escape my mind.


Mixed media on un-stretched linen


160cm x 100cm
DYS/EU PHORIA — Mixed media on un-stretched linen 250cm x 200cm Image courtesy of Cob Gallery

To me, painting the body takes away its limitations. It allows for emotions to be embodied truly and freely. The painted body is limitless and can exist in many forms. The painted body is genderless and painless. These self-portraits are assembled constructions of desires, fears, memories and current states in a still captured moment. They are many faces and bodies compounded to represent my embodied self and the perceived world.


Mixed media on un-stretched linen


250cm x 200cm

Warning: This work contains mature or explicit content.

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Like stepping on lego — mixed media on paper 59.4cm x 42cm


mixed media on paper


59.4cm x 42cm
Room 33 — Mixed media on paper 59.4cm x 42cm


Mixed media on paper


59.4cm x 42cm
Potion for your infertility — Charcoal on paper 42cm x 29.7cm
Jumped in and no one could see — Charcoal on paper 42cm x 29.7cm


Charcoal on paper


42cm x 29.7cm