BEIRUT: Visitors entering Agial Gallery nowadays may well be disturbed by the works they find on display there, an exhibition of 12 enigmatic oils by Nadia Safieddine, rather allusively entitled “Badroom.”
Safieddine’s is a palette dominated by blacks and dark reds, browns and grays. Even when juxtaposed with dabs of orange or yellow, green or blue, the effect of the artist’s brushwork is to mire these brighter hues within gloom.
One of her more unsettling works is “L’Ecorche III” (‘The Wounded Man III’), a 90x77 cm canvas whose central figure looks less a depiction of mortal injury than a skull whose skin and facial features have been ripped off completely. What remains is swaddled (or helmeted) in muddied cloth. If the term “miasma” could be given a visual representation, this would be it.
Safieddine’s technique in portraying her figures is stunning. Layer upon muddy layer of oil paint is applied less with an eye to direct figuration than to create an organic mass from which figures can emerge. Figures and recognizable shapes seem to burst forth from the brushwork of their own accord.
The Lebanese artist divides her time between Berlin and Beirut, and her style is most evocative of the post-figurative work of expatriate Syrian artist Marwan – who happens to have been a long-term resident of Germany.
Safieddine would not be the first Lebanese artist to be influenced by Marwan’s relentless application of oil to canvas. It may be useful to contrast her work with that of Ayman Baalbaki. While Baalbaki has taken up Marwan’s explorations of post-figuration and adapted it to create works that ironically blend a decorative sensibility with a Civil War iconography, Safieddine’s subjects have no easy referent in the pop culture consciousness.
Her application of this cold, dark cacophony of color may or may not itself be disturbing, but it does leave one to wonder about the goings on in the “badroom” of the artist’s imagination.
Her 150x140 cm work “Aaah!” depicts a horrendous scene. A beefy man gazes straight at the onlooker as he appears to rip an ill-defined creature to pieces. The bottom of the canvas is dominated by shades of red, suggesting a bloody carnage is under way.
Like most of Safieddine’s figures, the face of this one is indistinct, with his wide-opened mouth being most discernable. One wonders whether the title is meant to invoke the sound of the character’s screaming, or that of the viewer while gazing at the painting.
You may also see some similarity between Safieddine’s style in this work and that of Francisco de Goya’s work “Saturn devouring his Children.”
Not all of Safieddine’s works represent horrific situations.
If the title is to be believed, “Angry Me” (190x160 cm) depicts the artist herself. An odd-looking character sits, wearing what seem to be red bunny ears, holding a round item in its hands. Alongside is an unidentified black shape that (one assumes) could represent a headless torso.
Like “Aaah!” the background is rendered in horizontal strokes of color that range from pinks at the top of the canvas to black, red and dark blue at the bottom, as though these shades represent something oozing from the figure itself.
This red blotch can be seen as a leitmotif in Safieddine’s work. In “Dimitri” (160x145 cm), onlookers find a man standing, wearing a suit. The greenish vertical brushstrokes that make up the background wash suggest he’s surrounded by trees. A creature (rendered in the same tones as the background) lying at his feet has the aspect of a bear (perhaps a bearskin rug). The “floor” is, again, of a blood-red hue.
A companion piece to “Dimitri,” “Naked” (180x150 cm) represents the bestial in slightly different terms. Safieddine depicts the figure’s facial feature in terms not unlike the indistinct skull found in “L’Ecorche III.”
The figure’s features and posture suggest something ape-like or perhaps a cross between animal and human. Though the figure is not clothed in any discernable way, the piece seems uninterested in rendering physical nudity or any of the form’s aesthetic charms. Rather it is preoccupied with expressing a primordial violence, hostility or lust.
Safieddine’s “Badroom” is now on display at Agial Art Gallery until Feb. 16. For more information, please call 01-345-213.