Culture

Laugh out loud: Khaled Takreti’s sociocultural critique

BEIRUT: Love it or hate it, you can’t get away from “LOL.” The ubiquitous acronym for “laugh out loud” has permeated the fabric of contemporary dialogue, evolving from a feature of computer-mediated communication to the point where advocates of the expression can be heard to utter the letters aloud as a substitute for actually laughing.

In 2011, its status as a word in its own right was cemented when it was added to the Oxford Dictionary.

Syrian artist Khaled Takreti has taken the acronym for the title of his latest series of paintings, now on show at Ayyam Gallery. “LOL” comprises nine satirical works that focus on contemporary sociocultural values and the corrupting influences of social and mass media, advertising and computer games.

The series follows on closely from the artist’s 2013 series “Complete Freedom,” which tackles similar themes using the same unusual technique. In both series, Takreti sourced imagery from the media or staged photographs that could be used to create collages. From these, he derived a series of stencils from which to draw the outlines of his painted compositions.

The result is distinctly pop art. In contrast to the artist’s earlier work, which often employed subtle monochrome or sepia tones, the paintings in “LOL” contrast simple, black-and-white compositions with accents of vivid color – starling neon shades or deep jewel-like highlights.

Advert-like themselves in their bold compositions and striking colors, his paintings are humorous but savagely critical, highlighting the shallow values, short attention span and obsession with fame synonymous with today’s consumer culture.

Born in Beirut in 1964, Takreti grew up in Damascus. He trained as an architect and spent some years living in the U.S. before the death of his grandmother drove him to return to Syria, where he began to paint. Since 2004, Takreti has made Paris his home.

Unlike many Syrian artists whose recent work has dwelt on the conflict in their homeland, Takreti’s work remains focused on more globally pervasive problems. His pop art approach combines Western and Eastern influences and is informed by the work of pioneers including Andy Warhol.

In a three-panel painting entitled “LOL,” Takreti pairs a black-and-white stenciled image of Marilyn Monroe in the iconic scene from “The Seven Year Itch” where her white dress flies up as she stands atop an air vent, with a self-portrait in which he balances atop a chair in a red-and-pink striped dressing gown, one leg cocked, a coy smile on his bearded face. The final panel, also rendered in black-and-white, captures a man in casual black clothes and flip-flops positioning a spotlight, as though preparing Takreti for his 15 minutes of fame.

It’s an entertaining and appealingly self-deprecating work. Takreti’s juxtaposition of Monroe’s features, rendered strangely unattractive in his uncompromising black lines, with his own carefully reproduced face, pokes fun at his own vanity.

The work also contains a more serious critique of the culture of self-aggrandizement that has grown alongside the explosion of sites like Myspace and Facebook, on which anyone can craft a carefully curated portfolio of images that purport to represent reality.

In the enormous “Je suis Con” (I’m a Prick), Takreti employs five canvas panels to create a series of portraits. Four women face toward a central panel. Captured in three-quarter profile, each stares unsmiling at the viewer with one eyebrow slightly raised, as though unimpressed with what they see.

Each is depicted in black-and-white, save for a few details in garish colors. One sports a neon orange halter top and headband; another has bright yellow stars dotted across her shorn hair and black top. Opposite them, a third sports bright red lipstick and a beehive hairdo, while the fourth figure is pictured wearing bright blue eye shadow and a voluminous patterned bonnet.

These paragons of cutting-edge style may be looking sideways, out of the canvas, but their faces are angled toward the central panel, in which a donkey clad in a jester’s diamond-patterned garb raises one human arm skyward.

An exploration of the lightning-fast advent of technology in our lives and the speed with which it continuously evolves, rendering previous models defunct, is found in “220 Volts.”

A pile of obsolete electronics – an old-fashioned ghetto blaster, a corded landline telephone, an analogue TV, a computer complete with floppy disk drive, cassette tapes in a rack – balances precariously at the right of the canvas.

To the left, a female form encased in a jumpsuit rears back, as though in shock and horror. Where her head should be is a bright red-and-yellow stereo speaker.

Takreti’s bold, pop art style and socially driven, satirical subject matter are reminiscent of the irreverent approach taken by newspaper cartoonists. A well-judged blend of serious social critique and black humor, “LOL” features entertaining works that would function as effectively spray-painted on a wall as they do in a commercial gallery.

Khaled Takreti’s “LOL” is up at Ayyam Gallery through Oct. 24. For more information, please call 01-374-450.

 

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