“It’s No Longer About Me” is the title of Syrian artist Mohannad Orabi latest solo exhibition currently hosted by Ayyam Gallery (DIFC), Dubai, which caught my attention and made me wonder what is no longer about the artist?!
To understand this statement, I had to look into Mohannad’s previous artworks and that gave me the answer. Comparing between latest and old artworks, Mohannad shifted from the joyful figures on his canvases where a soft calming smile and eyes closed in peace, to sad figures where their smile is taken away and eyes widely open anticipating something… He came out of the bubble into the world.
Now I jump to another question: what have changed?!
There is no doubt that the events striking Syria and the world last year effected Mohannad’s works. In his previous works, there is one figure sharing his / her intimacy, personal experiences, an invitation to their world. All were titled “Self Portrait” Mohannad’s figure felt the world is circling around them, they are apart from it yet close.
“Suddenly, all the events that happened in 2011 made me want to get out of my serenity and get involved, ask about a friend in Egypt or a family member in Lebanon, bitterly wondering about Syrians across my country even if they are strangers or we never met and wondering also about Syrians that were forced to move abroad leaving everything behind… Everything that happened and still happening is not an ordinary news we hear everyday in the news, it is about humanity.” explained Mohannad to Al Mahha.
In Mohannad’s “It’s Not About Me” his personas have changed, there is something beyond self-portrait, as if he / she are getting out of their bubble, talking to you wanting to be part of the happenings around us, you and the figure!
“Each painting has its own unique thing, but all fall together under one theme.” he said.
There is something different between the painting of the woman surrounded with 5 guys, and the character with a red mask on (both shown below). The first one is a strong mother surrounded by her 5 sons, the dots filling the painting like lace covering the surface, non of the characters are looking straight, they are all looking in one direction. Whereas the second painting of the figure with a red mask on the below part of the face, patterns on the hair and shirt, the red mask doesn’t cover the mouth or eyes and he/she is looking straight into your eyes!
Similarities are: both characters are strong, both are anticipating something, both are part of something bigger than them (First one is family & second is …. I will leave it for you to figure it out.
On a technical note, Mohannad’s style have improved and…
“It became more mature… You look at it and say “oh that’s an easy piece I can do it” but it is not. The details make it sophisticated, duplicity in sharp figures, and I had to go through a long complicated process to invent some colors; like the red background work, where I mixed soil with paints to give is a Wall-texture. It is not what it appears to be and that is it trick, the value of hard work. Some artworks have reflection of light on it, this reflection represents hope to me.” said Mohannad.
“It’s No Longer About Me” is an outcome of various human experiences, and certainly transferred Mohannad into a higher level in his professional career. The contradicting details and overall make his portrait paintings one of a kind, there is sadness in every piece yet hope, disappointment and determination, fear and strength… All that will surely captivate any viewer and you can’t easily forget the look in their eyes, all Mohannad’s figures talk to your heart, mind & soul. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t take their images or conversations out of my mind.
However, there is press release that I once read about “It’s No Longer About Me” that disturbed me, the author said “Mohannad Orabi’s exhibition cascades Arab Spring”. First of all, the topic of (Arab Spring) will limit any artwork adopts this theme, because once this phase is over, the value of artwork will also turn it into just another decorative hanging piece. Secondly, I felt anyone in the world could be touched with Mohannad’s works whether he is an Arab or not; anyone who lost a dear person will know the feeling of the kid holding a man’s picture, death is not always an outcome of war (as shown in below artwork with red background).
“I drew the Child holding a eye-folded toy (shown below with gray background) because I was disturbed with the continues view of blood on television. In this painting, the child is protecting his toy from seeing violence and any person in the world shares the same fear of savage violence views on kids exposed to new media! It is unbearable and uncontrollable.
My artworks in “It’s No Longer About Me” are not related to the Arab Spring. Yes the events had an effect but that doesn’t mean it is only about the revolutions. I can not bid on people’s feelings and I can’t lie to myself when I paint , I would have said “Yes it is all about the Arab Spring” directly. I create something from a state I feel and get involved with, to me Art is all about taking the risk, pushing the limits, thinking out of the box and see where the coincidence will take me; all this is reflected in my concept and techniques.” affirmed Mohannad.
By the way, Mohannad Orabi couldn’t attend his exhibition because he lives in Syria and visa permit was not issued for him…
“It was sad that I couldn’t attend, but the interaction between people and my artworks & feedbacks I received filled me with happiness because my artworks were able to talk about themselves without my help… and that is amazing to me.” Mohannad told Al Mahha on a phone call while I was preparing this post.
Mohannad’s honesty with his work is what made this exhibition so successful and deep, it is not something that will pass by easily from anyone who see it. “It’s No Longer About Me” is ongoing until June 16 at Ayyam Gallery (DIFC), Dubai.