Lebanese artist Nadim Karam’s first UK solo exhibition at Ayyam Gallery
Images courtesy Ayyam Gallery
Though the clouds may float indifferently above the earth, the Middle East is a land that boasts a direct connection with their cottony kingdom. Its inhabitants are enrapt in a mystical union with the fluffy beyond and their loved ones who now reside there, having been violently snatched from this world. The survivors of the horror shall inevitably merge with the clouds through a common bloodline, almost lyrically.
In Shooting the Cloud, Lebanese artist Nadim Karam’s first solo UK solo exhibition at Ayyam Gallery, the works are many, the artist’s approaches diverse, and the exhibition space glittering and twinkling, seemingly uttering tunes of what Karam describes as ‘optimism’. However, within this joyful atmosphere, images of bombs and scenes of war slowly begin to emerge; nonetheless, his viewers are visually teleported a high ‘cloud’, beyond the absurdity of man and his misery. From Karam’s perspective, the trace of war is a leftover residue from his experiences in Lebanon both now, and during the Civil War.
Between the artist’s reality and fantasy exists a thin glossy coat of varnish. On his sculptures, however, this glaze transforms into a mirror reflecting the image of its beholder, as if asking for identification papers from a nearly forgotten military checkpoint. This does not matter, however; the artist is only toying with the viewer. His ultimate aim is to reinvent reality, manipulating one’s assumed knowledge and notions of war. There is no blood here, because the figures in his works are not made of flesh; they are sublime, mentally, ideologically, and physically transcending the socio-historical pressures of Lebanon.
The end of the devastating Civil War occurred suddenly and unexpectedly, though it is still commonly believed to be continuing in different forms. Since this war has been a war of ‘others’, the country has decided to collectively forget about it, and enter an official state of amnesia, leaving everything and everyone on the ground. The ruling tribes still dance in circles without real faith in progress, because the ghost of war still knocks on their doors, and the people are constantly waiting to flee. Karam’s artworks reflect a state – not of forgetting – but of consciously visualising the end of hostility. The figures appear stronger than the artillery and the tanks, bending and blocking weapons with their bare limbs. This is the ‘cloud’ of hope; Karam does not blindly believe, but willingly dreams.
Karam’s characters are lines open to change, and which erase the boundaries of differences between entities. These characters become larger in scale, floating within the atmosphere of the urban city, projecting happiness onto their environs and those of the beholder. Their facial expressions range from smiling and laughing, to worried and anxious, yet they ever possess an ambitious gaze towards a beyond that is somewhat hidden from the viewer in their position ‘outside’ the painting. The artist plays on one’s conception of a hopeful beyond; one knows it exists, because one wants it to exist, and as such, they share telepathy with his figures.
The exhibition goes beyond the idea of the typical Lebanese who dreams about the end of conflict … Karam requests from the world in its current state the unburdening of itself from the common struggles of making a living and making war, visualising a reality of utopian love
Whatever one chooses to call it – a light at the end of the tunnel, or the face of heaven – the exhibition, with its display of a euphoric ‘elsewhere’ is luminous. The artworks invite one to roll in laughter in the face of war and aggression, and to fall in love with their own tragic fragility as human beings moving inevitably towards their end. Shooting the Cloud is a yearning towards the rearrangement of cultural boundaries, and as these boundaries are joined together inside drawn figures that advance towards a perspective of movement with which the glittery painted colours change, one’s perception is altered as they view the works from different angles.
Nadim Karam is a sandman, sprinkling anticipation upon one’s vision and perspective of Lebanese life. He is one of the most highly-acclaimed artists in the region, and one of the few brave sandmen to play at once with glitter and cultural assumptions. The insight his show proposes is a necessary redirection from the concept of war, as it offers a sort of dreamy happiness, which, although fluffy with clouds of hope, nevertheless imposes a ‘sharp’ and pristine outlook on the significance of optimism and its subtle details. The stainless steel laser-cut sculptures suggest the influence of Arabic calligraphy, although at the same time, the artist ventures beyond into an imaginary language symbolic of utopian idealism. The developed form of pictorial inscriptions on these glossy sculptures reminds one of primitive cultures and their creative approaches to language, which at times seemed like magical recipes concocted in response to a fear of nature. In a similarly playful method, Karam’s inscriptions, applied in a pictorial urban dialect aim to intervene in the order of contemporary society, expanding beyond Lebanon and its Arabic language.
Here, Shooting the Cloud does not imply a ‘shooting for the stars’, as the expression goes; instead, Karam simply deals with important, private issues known only to the characters within his dreamy universe, which he calls ‘urban toys’. The exhibition ventures past the idea of the typical Lebanese who dreams about the end of conflict and the solution to their perpetual issues; Karam requests from the world in its current state the unburdening of itself from the common struggles of making a living and making war, visualising a reality of utopian love. Shooting the Cloud risks being assumed as a hopeless conversation; however, Karam is unconcerned with potential cynicism, having already sown the seeds of optimism by becoming a Lebanese artist, and one who uses glitter as the ‘ingredient’ with which he takes his viewers to the clouds, at that. Ultimately, Karam plays with contemporary reality, provoking human instincts through the jargon of high art, challenging both Arab stereotypes, as well as the Arab art scene outside its comfort zone.
Shooting the Cloud runs through March 9, 2013 at Ayyam Gallery