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A refreshingly different kind of art

31 SIMON 19-2-2022
Works on display at Wadi Finan Art Gallery. (Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)
It is a different kind of art. Well, most of it. An alternative way of giving free rein to creative expression, which prompted the name of the exhibition now held at Wadi Finan Art Gallery: Artenative.اضافة اعلان

To break completely with the traditional, the gallery has on display works of up-and-coming young artists who convey their messages in subtle, modern ways, in the case of three of the four, through the use of the all-pervading technology.

The artists may have each created different art forms, but they all convey their and others’ experiences laden with emotion, political, social and environmental issues, and common humanity.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

“No matter where we are from, we have the same emotions. Different stories, the same facial expressions,” says Shaun Rabah, whose art is “middle ground between digital and fine art”, who utilizes modern technology for “the message I want to transmit”, and who makes use of augmented reality.

Named “Augmented reality NFT experience, U:Union”, his two big panels reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn diptych hold faces with different expressions.

One, almost pixilated, represents tens of faces from among those of “a few hundred people from about 14 countries, recorded since 2018”. Almost abstract from afar, the faces acquire more individuality through the use of an augmented reality app that viewers may download through the QR code scanner next to the work, which connects a digital layer to traditional artwork, making it come to life.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

The other, still images of the face of a woman, render her emotions in the course of the silent filming during which she was asked to relive a moment in her life. The minute transformations of the expressions of her mouth tell her state of mind without her having to utter a word. Sad, unmoved, happy, her lips tell it all. Overlapping is the image of two fish, moving, as if swimming through water.

Like the face, which “represents emotions that are passing through us”, the “male and female” fish also represent “emotions, both aspects of ourselves”, the “inner self”, says Rabah.

Solenne Tadros’ “Oculus-go virtual reality simulation, Pre-exodus” installation is a heart-warming and heart-rending tale of loss, memories one clings to, longing for the lost home and, between the lines, a censure of occupation.

Tadros tells the story of her grandmother, Leila Khoury Nimri, now in her late 80s, who had to flee her home in Haifa, Palestine, when she was 13. It was 1948, the Nakba, and Tadros wanted the intangible feeling, the elusive memory of an uprooted child to be shared before it fades away.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

Expecting a sketchy description after so many years, she was surprised by the richness of detail with which her grandmother described the bedroom she shared with her younger sister, and which the artist endeavored to recreate as faithfully as possible.

The highlight of the installation, with the voice of the grandmother and her favorite singer Asmahan’s song “Layali el unse fi Vienna” heard in the background, is the use of the virtual reality headset that has the viewer share city streets surrounding her house in Haifa “taken from a 360-degree screenshot from Google maps of Leila’s neighborhood… photoshopped extensively to remove traces of objects built since the occupation”.

It is emotional. As Tadros says “the experience you are about to enter will allow you to be digitally present in a memory that my grandmother has not been able to be physically present in since she fled her home”.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

Marah Zada’s “NFT digital art exhibition, Visualizing Arabic sayings” is a funny, unusual animation of things that wish to literally represent different sayings, which will leave the viewer smiling and surprised by the wit of it all.

“… I always hear humorous and expressive proverbs that make me wonder who came up with them and how they spread…. I tried to highlight that by making small video animations illustrating different Arabic sayings which have figures of speech in them,” says Zada who “approached the animations in a witty and whimsical style which will appeal to Arabic speakers”.

It may be difficult for a foreigner to realize what proverb/saying the animation represents, since Zada’s approach “is very literal, as I take the proverb word for word and illustrate it”, but it does make for entertaining viewing to an Arab speaker.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

Some images might be self explanatory – the watermelon, which became a symbol of Palestinian resistance by virtue of its colors similar to those of the Palestinian flag, for example – but obvious or not, Zada entered “the world of NFTs with these video animations, so I could introduce them to a wider audience and keep them on the internet as a way to preserve them”.

“Striving to take different elements from my life and combine them with pop culture and art history to create new meaning, and to turn the mundane into a spectacle,” Zada, preoccupied by “where we are headed with this digital revolution”, created “The school of metaverse”, an animated projection of Italian Renaissance artist Raphael’s “The school of Athens”, in which she makes the characters in the painting wear an oculus, “trying to imagine how a room filled with thinkers, philosophers, mathematicians, are living in our world now and heading into the metaverse and the virtual world”.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

An interesting, but scary, thought, seeing that a much more actual generation has trouble penetrating that world.

The viewer is brought back to a more familiar world by Hussein Al Attia’s “Zuhra II” make-happy canvases in mixed media.

Zuhra, the artist says, “is a woman in abstract form. She reflects our shifting and evolving perspectives of her”.

Brought up in a household of “strong women”, “feminists”, Attia says they are his “idols”. His expounding on the subject of femininity is beguiling. His abstract works make the eye linger.

Sinewy lines in which the viewer can easily see the outlines of human figures, quite anatomical if one pays closer attention, projected against a black background – a dark perception of women – are topped by a minutely rendered circle, perfect in its shape and geometrical imagery, a mandala that the artist says symbolizes the mind.

(Photo: Handout from Wadi Finan Art Gallery)

His images represent women he met, he says. They also represent an “evolution of perspectives. How our perception of a woman can change, how the society’s perceptions can change”.

If one of the canvases hints at the tendency of many societies to objectify women, in the next, with strong, mainly in strong primary colors and with clearly defined contours, the background is no longer black – improved perception, the artist says – and with mandala bigger and closer to the abstract “bodies”, one should see a “celebration of the mind and body equally, women in a different perspective”, says Attia.

A third, smaller, canvas in lighter, almost pastel colors and much more abstract imagery wishes to render the woman liberated, completely de-objectified.

It is all charged and completely refreshing art that shows the maturity, involved activism and creativity of young artists.

Their works are on display until March 5.

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