Faisal Samra immortalises shock through Ayyam Gallery exhibition - GulfToday

Faisal Samra immortalises shock through Ayyam Gallery exhibition


A character copes with shock.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Ayyam Gallery is presenting Immortal Moment II - Coping with the Shock, a solo exhibition featuring Faisal Samra’s recent body of work. The exhibition (Feb. 27 – Apr. 15) showcases the second offering from the Immortal Moment project, in which Samra creates artworks through the accumulation of moments, pushing the viewer to question the possibilities of a single fraction of time when many things happen. In the first edition of the project, Samra describes the technique as “capturing a moment and immortalising it in time”. However, this time, he defines the outcome as a “shock”. And the exhibition reveals the process of Coping with the Shock.

Samra incorporates disturbing imagery to create the shocking experience and it is perhaps a way of disturbing smug, complacent and hypocritical people. But it is far from the artist’s intention to bask in any shock value so wrought. He does not make art to provoke a reaction of disgust, shock, anger, fear, or similar negative emotions. Rather, his intention is therapeutical. It nudges the viewer to explore his own emotions, understand conflicts or feelings that cause distress, and use art to help find resolutions to those issues.

Medicine and its child, psychology, have investigated the concept of fight or flight. Samra does it through art. The fight or flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is seen as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat rouses the nervous system, triggering a response that prepares the body to fight or flee. The reactions are evolutionary adaptations to increase chances of survival in threatening situations. The shock dominates and controls, or is absorbed by a person adapting to it. To survive and overcome the shock is what is called coping. Samra abstracts the experience and seeks the meaning of shock inside the abstraction.

His subjects include post-shock creatures and figures. Dots, splashes of colour and handsome strokes depict them with verve – it is part triumph of having faced the shock successfully and part relief that the worst is over. It is catharsis at its best and the display series turn into cycles of documentation, acts and gestures that pin down time and immortalises it, one picture after another.

In the Distorted Reality series (2005/2011), Samra choses a moment from countless stills of filmed performances. In another project, Thriving Emotions — Immortal Moment, he identifies the moment itself, through the emotions of spontaneously created marks. Through gestural mark-making, he restructures a single moment of action, giving birth to a new series of moments. It is his way of fertilising shock and establishing control in the midst of unpredictability. The dialogue between the abstract and figurative, the conceptual and the real, is fundamental to the work. Time, being one of the most abstract ideas, becomes figurative when Samra notes down specific points in it, through the use of charcoal and paint.

Confronting the shock.

Long considered one of the Arab Gulf’s foremost artists and a pioneer of conceptual art in the Middle East, Bahrain born, Saudi national Samra incorporates digital photography, painting, sculpture, video and performance in a bouquet of creativity, fearlessly examining existentialist themes, with “the figure” at the centre. (It could be everyman or no man and the personality is deliberately left ambiguous). Experimentation and research are his guiding principles and as his oeuvre has progressed and defied traditional modes of representation, he has rebelled against his own understanding of art, transitioning into new works that maintain three critical concepts: spontaneity, dynamism, and secrecy. The artist, while meditating on his own condition, universalises his experience.

In 1974, he emigrated from Saudi Arabia to France to attend the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts (ENSBA), Paris. While studying at the prestigious institution, he immersed himself in the work of modern and contemporary European art makers.

The initial period of his development was distinguished by expressionist drawings and paintings that investigate the body in motion or at rest. It established a conceptual basis for later videos, photographs and installations, while also demonstrating a rejection of prescribed forms of figuration.

Upon graduating from the ENSBA in 1980, he settled in Saudi Arabia, while continuing to exhibit abroad. In the late 1980s, he returned to France, where he spent four years as an art consultant at the Institute du Monde Arabe. After nearly a decade of contributing to collective exhibitions across Europe, he held his first solo show at Etienne Dinet Gallery in Paris (1989). It was a milestone and was followed by Le Pli (1991), a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Institute du Monde Arabe that established him as a leading artist of and from the Arab world. This period of his career was distinguished by investigations of emotive and sensory approaches to art.

In the 1990s, his Heads and Other Body series introduced hanging art objects that blur the lines between painting and sculpture by expanding the treated canvas outside the stretcher or frame, and incorporating materials such as wire mesh, which create an armature for three-dimensional forms. The breakthroughs led to installation, video and multimedia works that contributed to his career-long investigation of life, the space between birth and death, and how time can be reflected through artistic devices. Founded in 2006, Ayyam Gallery has a blue-chip art space in Dubai, collaborative projects in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia, a multilingual publishing division and a custodianship programme that manages art estates.

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