DUBAI // As soon as you walk through Samia Jaber's front door you realise that hers is no ordinary home, but a living work of art that both enchants and challenges the visitor. There are sculptures, paintings and murals, an eclectic mix reflecting her life and family, flowing from room to room and out into the garden. Each is carefully designed to blend in with the furniture, setting and position of the house. Life-size sculptures typically on family themes such as mother and child are scattered among paintings rendered in vibrant colours and sharp brushstrokes.
To look at her art, you might think she had been painting and sculpting for years, but in fact it was only after raising three children and seeing her eldest son Ramzia, now 23, off to college, that she decided it was time to branch out. She had previously taken a course in business administration in 1993 in Iraq, but had never gained a degree and felt this was something she felt she would like to achieve.
Private painting classes had awakened an interest in art, so Mrs Jaber was among the first to enrol at the University of Sharjah's College of Fine Arts and Design when it opened in 2001. There, the gift she never knew she possessed flourished. When she graduated in 2006 at the age of 45, she said, she found she needed a new focus. "We moved to this house from Sharjah so I could combine making my dream home my work of art and at the same time with the goal of opening it as an exhibition to share and continue my art."
This week, she realised the second part of that dream, opening her home for an exhibition entitled simply Wamadat Min Bayti (Glimpses from My Home). Mrs Jaber's work has a quality that you might normally expect from somebody with a great deal more experience, and Peter Wheeler, the former dean of her college, said: "It is a pleasure to see how the work of one of the pioneer students of the college has developed."
The artist said this week's free exhibition - opened by Hassan Abdullah, the present dean - represented "spontaneous everyday emotions from joy to pain through the struggle of daily life". Much of her inspiration came from her devotion to her children and from the strength of her 24-year marriage to her husband Nader, an engineer whose support, she said had allowed her to break free of the constraints of a "conventional Arab woman's life".
Mrs Jaber, who was born in Beirzeit in the West Bank, said: "Most Arab women would not be allowed to do this but it's the support of my husband, both financially and emotionally, which has helped me." He had "pushed me to study, supporting everything I did and has supported me through all of this". A life-size sculpture takes her about three days, and sometimes, "I will just disappear with my work for 12 or 13 hours at a time and he won't see me, but he will never complain. I couldn't have done it without him."
With her family at the heart of each creation, she has given her daily life an artistic dimension. Her home is her studio and she said that the understanding of her family had "encouraged daring techniques and always pushed for new frontiers". Through those techniques can been detected an innate taste for experiment. The paintings range from strong knife strokes to acrylics in which the subjects seem almost to come to life.
"I love the work of Frida Kahlo," she said. "There is a story behind everything she created. I don't like to create art for the sake of beauty alone. It has to have meaning for me." In the grounds, Mrs Jaber has created her own "sculpture garden". The figures, including her life size plaster sculptures Lover and Elegant, blend in with the colourful, vibrant foliage. Elegant, she said, represented the spirit and beauty of woman. "There's so much of the woman in society and in the home. Without her, the home would not be a home."
Lover, one of her most personal pieces, drew on her strong relationship with her husband. "Without this love and strength of feeling between us, this house would be nothing." Inside, Purity stands in the lobby area, symbolising the mother, maternity and birth. The themes of the garden are picked up and continued throughout the house. In Mother and Child, a deep turquoise boat symbolises life and marriage. Inside, two faceless figures sit as the embodiment of her family on its journey and her marriage to Nader.
"Marriage is not easy. You face a lot of challenges and emotions," she said. "It's not smooth and this boat represents the rockiness of that journey, but you overcome it together and stay strong as a family." The strength of the father figure is seen in Kids and Mum, one of two installations made from chicken wire woven into the armature to create solid but almost transparent, diaphanous figures.
In the scene, the father is wrapped around the wife and children in an attitude showing his protective role and significance as head of the family. "The family is embraced by the father's love and protection." Lately, Mrs Jaber said, she had been going through "a green period". The colour has been a strong element of recent work, for example in Ballet Girl, a piece inspired by her daughter's dancing.
"Green is so vibrant, such a lively colour," she said. "This year, it's featured strongly in my work. White is usually my favourite colour but this year it's been like my own green period." Back in the garden, mosaics using a cacophony of hues and textures draw attention to the artist's use of colour. Maintaining the dancing theme, Fragments is a beautiful blue mosaic that is tactile and comes alive with shimmers of colour as the sun's rays dance over the figure.
Mrs Jaber never sells her work. "I create everything with the vision that it will have a specific place in my home.
"If people like something, I can make them something similar, which I have done with various pieces, but my art is my home. It's all meant to be in harmony with each other."