26 January: Tribute to Louay Kayali

OV Digital Desk

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Louay Kayali  (20 January 1934 – 26 January 1978) was a Syrian modern artist. His powerful portraits convey the strength, resilience, and nobility of everyday folk—bakers, fisherman, and pregnant mothers.

Life and Career

Louay Kayali was born on 20 January 1934 in Aleppo. Louay Kayali began painting at the age of 11 and held his first exhibition when he was 18 at Al-Tajhis Al-Oula School. Awarded a scholarship, Kayali moved to Italy in 1956 for advanced studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and went on to represent Syria at the 1960 Venice Biennale—a prestigious international art exhibition.

Joining the faculty of the Higher Institute for the Fine Arts in Damascus in 1962, Kayali’s instruction made a profound impact on future generations of Syrian artists. During the mid-1960s, he began a series of charcoal works which marked a departure from his previous paintings. The emotionally challenging images in his 1967 traveling exhibition “Fi Sabil al-Qadiyyah” (For the Sake of the Cause) depicted human suffering, reflecting upheaval in the Arab world. Upset by scathing reviews of the show, the artist announced that he would no longer paint, and destroyed much of his work. Fortunately, he did return to painting, showing new work throughout the 1970s, including a joint exhibition with his old friend Fateh al-Moudarres.

He died on 25 January 1978 at an age of 44. He suffered from depression and died from burns incurred from his bed catching fire, reportedly from a cigarette.

Award and Legacy

His contributions in the field of art and painting brought immense contributions to society at large. He was not only acclaimed during his lifetime but also his legacy continued after his death. In 2009, Bonham’s Auction House sold one of Kayali’s paintings for $132,000.

On 20 January 2019, Google Doodle celebrated Louay Kayali’s 85th Birthday.