Breaking The Idealist Image of Woman

The solo exhibition of Syrian artist Kais Salman “Inner Self” , running in Ayyam Gallery Beirut, caused a huge debated in press and art critics and an exterem split in opinions; clearly because the figures in his paintings are not something common we see in Middle East art scene where the idea of “art represents something beautiful” is more of “Must” than an idology. I gathered some of the different views on Salman’s works to establish an understanding on how people see his work and clarify the idea -from my opionion- behind the artist’s “monsterous” females.

Who is Kais Salman?

Born in Tartous, Syria in 1976, Kais Salman graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts Damascus in 2002. Featured in group exhibitions in Syria and the Arab world, including the 4th Annual Youth Exhibition in Damascus, where he took first prize, and the inaugural exhibition of the Damascus Museum of Modern Art, Salman has been a regular fixture of the local art scene ever since. In addition to several solo exhibitions with Ayyam Gallery, he has recently participated in such shows as ‘Shabab Uprising’ and ‘Damascus Calling’, which was held at The Park Avenue Armory in New York City in 2008. In 2010, Salman was profiled in the Wall Street Journal Europe’s Weekend Edition as a must-watch figure of the contemporary Middle Eastern art scene.

“Inner Self” The Unseen Faces of Feminity

“Kais Salman depicts his subjects with 13 artworks featuring large, tapered oval faces with accentuated nose bridges, prominent almond-shaped eyes and full lips, carried atop undersized voluptuous bodies. Viewed from a frontal perspective, his subjects lack their upper extremities, thereby highlighting their bare, curvaceous forms. Evocative of ancient alabaster sculptures which have lost their arms and heads over time and even more redolent of the rotundness of fertility statues, Salman’s paintings deliberately suggest the fertility of his feminine subjects.

Nearly monochromatic with crimson accents, Salman’s subjects are portrayed in a much more humane manner and the emptiness of the fashion-motivated figures is replaced with the multifacetedness of women.

(The Bride) artwork -below features a disrobed woman with a wedding veil falling behind her. Though she appears nude and vulnerable to our gaze and objectified by it, the revealed musculature of one of her legs reinforces that she is more than an object to gaze and desire.”

Ayyam Gallery

Kais Salman ‘The Bride’ Mixed Media on Canvas, 250 X 150 cm, 2012.

Another interesting artwork in “Inner Self” is (Heavy Fuel) -below: a composition of 5 canvases outline the diversity of character in women with references to religion, awareness of objectification, self-protection of their modesty, and their live-giving character…

“These women also appear as dangerous creatures as their corporeal vulnerability is countered by a holstered dagger or gun in a lace garter, an accoutrement popularly worn during a wedding ceremony.”

Ayyam Gallery

Kais Salman ‘Heavy Fuel’ Mixed Media on Canvas, 250 X 750 cm (5 Canvases), 2012.

Media on “Inner Self”

(Kais Salman Parctices Weirdness in Ayyam Gallery) by Al Nahar Newspaper (Sept 28, 2012):

“The young artist exaggerates in transforming human reality into a deform which obtains both beautiful soles and opposite things not even close to create an angelic form or ideal that make us excited to see and examin its components and details to find something glorifies the Creator….

Artist to go further than that, moking a woman’s body when he exposes her body bare naked adding a religious references or sarcastic, such as the words “not valid for use” between her breasts and stomach, or hanging a bright Cross between her breasts….” Read Full Article.

(The Other Face of Woman in “Inner Self) by Russia Today (Sept 29, 2012):

“Artist who has the word being of the tragic events in his native country, diving through his paintings in the causes that led to the creation of these events, though his own style.

Not a place of peace or tranquility inside the exhibition Everything that you see is the ugly faces, brutality and even deadly for women. Faces are derived from the tragic events that are currently plaguing Syria, and that there is no doubt that it affected the conscience of Syrian artist.” Full Article.

(The Anatomy of Kais Salman Women) by Al Akhbar Newspaper (Oct 1, 2012)

“Young Syrian painter want the viewers to put aside superficial beauty and invites us on a tour of the dark side of this beauty, it’s like he is saying human visual presence is a deceptive mask layer. The emergence of women as monsters is an essential part of the painters aspirations; it seems that the ugliness made ​​them victims of this distortion.

The largest fear is the theme of drawing becomes a standard trend in art and becomes a new vibe of ‘Candy Art’.” Read Full Article.

The Painting Say it All!

As I mentioned earlier, reviewing Kais Salman’s “Inner Self” required collection not only information about this type of art but also critics reviews. Somewhere between the WWI and WWII the famous Dadaism movement was born when artists in the west changed the common image of visual art from “Beauty” into a reality-shocking one filled with -perhaps- too much ugliness, portraying man for the first time in an unknown creature and many artworks at that time was considered “eye-disturbing”.

The reason behind this drastic change in the art scene is a response of the brutal and endless killings and massacres occurred in that period, and art has always been the “genuine” human communication and history documentation, artists back then couldn’t paint a green valley & colorful flowers when the actual scene was a massive destruction. All movements that followed are an alert to shock people with reality, stop denying it to be able to understand & hence solve it.

The work Kais Salman shown is based on that, quoting the artist from interview…

“The image of woman featured in our media is either too vulnerable, artificial or fashion & trends victim and it is not accurate, that’s how the idea emerged and became a method of reality remediation”

It is not common to see woman painted by an Arab artist as naked, ugly monster; yet not all women are super models or smashed by society or man – as it is commonly depicted in the Middle East! Moreover Kais doesn’t mean to diminish femininity or underestimate it, in fact his paintings show a strong, fearless women with sharpness & intensity in their eyes. He is painting the type of women we see everyday, who have a stiff & aggressive mask to protect herself and be accepted in her society as a “strong, independent” woman, not to be taken for guaranteed.

I also would like to point out my opposition of one review that the only the tragic events in Syria affected Kais’s works, surely it did but not the main reason behind his visuals & figures.

The mix of realism and symbolism emphasize the concept, adopting the technique to present a brave, bold and “uncommon” work gave it value positioning Kais Salman ahead of contemporary arab artists from his generation ones again. I must say a great work that can only be obtained by someone looking for uniqueness and understand the new art scene Kais has created in the Middle East.


“Inner Self” is running in Ayyam Gallery Beirut until October 30


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