56th International Venice Biennale
All the World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor
May 9 to November 22, 2015
Installation: We’ll Build This City on Art and Love
Pavilion: Contemporary Practices Pavilion. In the Eye of the Thunderstorm: Effervescent Practices from the Arab World and Asia.
Curated by Martina Corgnati. Commissioner: Omar Donia.
Room Installation with Three Projections: The viewer walks into a 4 meter x 4 meter room. There are 3 projectors hanging from the ceiling, attached to media players that are running a separate USB for each projector (electrician is required to arrange the wiring of the room so that all wires are not visible to the viewer and are running inside the ceiling; hence, a removable false ceiling/box may need to be fixed between the projectors and the actual ceiling). The projection facing the viewer (on the 8 meter wall) is that of a painting called MARA7=7ARAM (Fun = Forbidden), which is 3 meters wide. Hovering in front of the projection with translucent (invisible) strings from the ceiling is a piano installation (reflecting the piano in the projected painting; therefore, also 3 meters long), so that the overall image is akin to a hologram or a 3D effect. On the right hand wall is a projection of a painting called A Tangled Tale (2 meters wide), and in front of that, also, hanging from the ceiling with invisible string, is an installation sculpture of metal piping, mimicking the piping in the projected painting, thus inducing the same 3D effect for the viewer (also 2 meters wide). On the left hand wall is a projection of a painting called Pollutoland (2 meters wide), in front of which also hangs a 2-meter wide installation sculpture of twigs and branches of dead trees (from translucent strings attached to the ceiling), reflecting the pollution-image in the projected painting. The floor is covered with sand, reflecting the desert environment of the Arabian Gulf.
MARA7 = 7ARAM (Fun = Forbidden): The number 7 in contemporary Arabic slang linguistics refers to the letter “H” in English but is pronounced phonetically from the back of the throat – a very guttural sound- so that it cannot be reproduced in any other language. Using this contemporary social-media induced phenomenon, it is applied to the title of this artwork to create a lucid irony between the images of “fun” and celebration portrayed in the artwork versus the title, which clearly states that “fun” is forbidden in an Islamic Arabian Gulf society. The images of people young and old, religious and liberal - from all walks of life - dancing, playing instruments, playing sports, laughing, falling in love, showing how celebration of life is beautiful and energizing and how it brings people together, is juxtaposed with the voice of fundamental religious cultures that preaches that fun is unacceptable in this world, that dancing, music and pleasure are prohibited. The title states that “fun” is taboo, utilizing the number 7 as the letter “h” in Arabic, and the word “marah” is defined as “fun”, yet in most Arabian Gulf cultures is considered “haram”; in other words “taboo”. By playing with the image, utilizing it as a mirror-image of one word for another, whereby the text “mara7” is actually “7aram” spelled backwards, the powerful sardonicism of the concept is emphasized. The image and the title are inseparable: one playing off the other in a ping-pong atmosphere of incongruity. The artwork deals with the concept of taboo in Islamic Arabian Gulf society.
Pollutoland: Pollutoland deals with the concept of pollution in the Arabian Gulf both micro-cosmically and macro-cosmically, with this particular image focusing on sea pollution in Kuwait. The beaches that are superficially cleaned up and blanketed with a facade of beauty for the tourists are foregone, and the work focuses on the majority of the Arabian Gulf, in remote areas untended by tourists. Navigating between the public space of the dead-tree-and-garbage-encrusted surface of the sea, and the private space of the oil-and-garbage-swamped bottom of the sea, this image engages the viewers' senses with both emotional and factual appeals. There is beauty even behind the ugliness, and a stereotypically repulsive image, unwanted and neglected, can actuate hope in the viewer, thus instigating proactivity. Pollutoland transforms the disheartening mantle of sea debris into a whimsical scene with fairies and children cleaning up and purifying the flotsam and jetsam left behind by both the insouciant negligence of people (as in the detritus of plastic bottles, nylon bags, soda drinks, etc) and institutions (as in the oil spills and other chemical contamination).
A Tangled Tale: A Tangled Tale addresses the corruption that lends itself to delayed projects, and hence, a stagnant society, arrested development and regression as opposed to progression over time. A Tangled Tale is a scene from a delayed construction site in Kuwait, one of the myriad projects delayed indefinitely for years due to copious corruption, from bribery, to insider trading of government tenders, to multifarious unresolved "committees". A motif of whimsy, humor, children and fairies dilutes the grim potentially perilous subject. The flowers, however, are wilted, and the new generation are confronted with ample building, reconstructing, considerable threading and sewing and stitching, before future generations can reap positive benefits after this generation's destruction.
Despite its depiction of three complex plights of the region, these three artworks, with their projections, sculptures and installations, forge a triangular relationship that inaugurates hope for the viewer regarding not just the future of the Arabian Gulf, but all the world’s futures. The combination of bold color, motifs of nature, the fantastical whimsy of fairies and angels, and the act of reconstruction and fabrication in the images infiltrates socio-political taboos, esoteric contamination, ostensible pollution and corruption, and takes the viewer to a future of consummate hope and boundless potential for growth and progress.
We'll Build This City on Art and Love
My 2014 series is entitled We'll Build This City on Art and Love, a spin off the eighties song We'll Build This City on Rock 'n' Roll. The title takes on both a serious and sarcastic connotation, with the simple straightforward meaning of re-building cities, minds, and beliefs that have been destroyed / deconstructed due to corruption and dogmatic, hypocritical ideologies. Most titles of paintings are a twist on chapters from Lewis Carrol's books Alice in Wonderland, The Hunting of the Snark, etc. Each title gives humor to an otherwise grave issue. By highlighting issues like corruption, bribery, delayed government projects, and other issues considered taboo, like love and marriage in the Muslim world, the series is a cry for peace both in the region and within ourselves.
My 2013 series Popcornographic, as a title, stemmed from my daughter's innocent response to the shut down of my It's a Man's World show in March 2012. Why Popcornographic? The title is my daughter's childish word, but it makes a mockery of the authorities' definition of “pornography”, a word they used when referring to my work. Furthermore, each title of each artwork in this new series is an analogy of some form of literary masterpiece, be it book or painting. I've chosen these specific titles because they belong to books that were banned at some point, or because their subject matter relates to my message, or because – quite simply – they're funny, cheeky, and enlighten with humor. The topics that Popcornographic deals with are all considered taboo in the Middle East, whether it is tackling the ramifications of subjective censorship or the disturbing phenomenon of child marriages or even the art of tattoos on Arab skin.
It's a Man's World
My 2011/2012 series It's a Man's World takes over where Society Girls left off, hence exploring the other side of Middle Eastern society: men. The title's irony is not lost in the images, most of which depict a hedonistic, taboo world of men. The images portray the dichotomy of the Arab man: religious preacher versus weekend alcoholic; political activist versus weekend party-goer; conservative father versus playboy; environmentalist versus smoker. Our society, by the very nature of its sharia-run politics, cannot exist without double standards, hypocrisy, and secret private lives. In this new work, I choose simply to depict what I've seen, and expose the untold truth of society men.
The Bullet Series
In The Bullet Series, the paintings are shot by a rifle with a small Hornet bullet, an allegory of society's murder of human rights, and freedom of speech and choice. Inevitably, bullets are etched into our Middle Eastern politics, history, culture, and religion. Our history and our current political affairs illustrate that the "bullet" is part of our existence. As such, it organically becomes part of any work related to the region. The series as a whole poses controversial religious, political, social, and sexual questions, with some paintings such as My Country is Ill and Take Me To Heaven being central to the work as a study of contemporary Middle Eastern socio-politics, and thus opening up a long overdue dialogue. The images do not profess to judge or dictate; rather, they are a transparent mirror thrust into society, exposing its taboo elements, and it is left up to the viewer to create his/her own perception of what truth is. Each painting is shot at a distance of 50 meters (with no room for error) and the bullet casings are saved and stored in labeled mini containers as part of the work– a reminder of the force, the power, of the issue at hand.
My series Society Girls is based on a raw exploration of modern Arabian Gulf society, metaphorically stripped to reveal the truth. The images do not profess to demean or criticize, nor to glorify and exaggerate. The images do tend to be subtly satirical, however, in juxtaposing traditional elements with contemporary elements. As with all of my recent work, the polarity between East and West is the backbone of my images, which – in this case - is simply a slice of life of society girls in Kuwait. The paintings depict the girls in their embellished, fashionable state, an emblematic prototypical portrayal in which there tends to be a “sameness” of identity. They are frozen in time, enclosed in their own bubble, oblivious to any external tumult. There is a feeling of cloning, of repetition. The Abbaya and the Niqab (veil) – both of which are meant to cover the woman, conceal her beauty from men, constrict her sensuality – are used provocatively, with the Abbaya casually strewn across the sofa here and there, sleek waxed legs exposed, oiled skin revealed, and the veils covering the women's faces are – ironically – an erotic throwback to the days of European courting and glamour. This eroticism is further accentuated by Nizar Qabbani's erotic poetry calligraphed - and intermingled with my own poetry spewed spontaneously - onto the sofa on which the girls sit. There is thus on the one hand the Abbaya, the Niqab, and the underlying nuances of the girls' Islamic religion and socio-cultural traditions, juxtaposed with the exposed flesh, revealing poses, erotic poetry and the undercurrents of sexuality and rebellion. This incongruency is the backbone of Society Girls. The series, as a whole, offers a glimpse of untold truth.
Art emerges from passion, raw talent, a strong voice, an unflinching vision, and a mind-shifting philosophy. Having undergone no traditional art schooling has made my vision clear, my voice imposing, and my philosophy rebellious. Inspiration is a continuous blessing, but has become an even more soul-stirring occurrence when stemming from a goal-oriented philosophy: to challenge out-dated social mores, to annihilate stereotypes, to open minds and toss away those blinders that people wear. This is the role of the artist. This is my role in my society. My work is now a conceptual formula of acrylic painting with photography, of text and image combined, a Synthesized, Ekphrastic world where East meets West, where methodologies merge and cultures fuse: where every image is the voice of the silent, every image is a moment captured in time yet infused with the breath of eternal life, and every image is a rebel with a cause.