Faisal Samra is one of Bahrain’s most famous artists...
What’s your most recent work? A chair with a big belly on which is written in Arabic, ‘The global economic power’. It is the chair of the global economic power that we have in the world which sucked up this money and it all disappeared, and that is the reason behind the crisis that we are in. They fill up their stomachs with all this money but it became un-useful for others. It is a chair, but you cannot sit on it.
Is this part of your famous Distorted Reality series? This piece is the last piece that I did in the series, which is evolving and growing up. At the beginning I was talking about all the distortions around us. I was talking about the faking of reality. The distortion became a way of living. To be able to achieve anything, people need to use distortion in one way or another, including in the economy. That’s one of the reasons that we have an economic crisis, there was no transparency and we are faking the truth.
So, the series was a call to action? My work is building an awareness [of this distortion] within me and within people. We have nothing to fight with, except to be aware. You can’t stop it, we are hypnotised by it. There are people who don’t control their time, who are in front of the TV and internet and they don’t select. Don’t let it use you, use it. Don’t be controlled by it, control it. You see people with their blackberry and it is like a tail, it follows them. These are contemporary problems that are affecting us deeply. And I cannot go and do decorative works while we are living a big issue here.
Where did the concept for this series come from? I started thinking about it in 2005. I was driving one day and all of a sudden I looked around and I saw all of these commercials around me and sometimes you get tired of it, you don’t want to see anything. There was not even one square metre which was not trying to sell anything. And then I turned on the radio and there were commercials that were trying to sell me something, and then I went home and the same thing. And it came to me just like that. And I said, ‘These sons of guns are invading me everywhere – I can’t even have a rest!’ The first work I did was a video, I had a video camera and I started to improvise in front of it. I started using the canvases and trying to wrap it around my head and with that I created masks.
You are the most famous artist working in Bahrain, is that something that you feel comfortable with? I am not a Bahraini, I am not a Saudi. I am a composition of a lot of things. I have lived in France, I have lived in New York, I lived in Beirut and I spent some time in the far east. I am a product of the world. I hate the classifications. If you want to look at papers, then I am Saudi because my father was Saudi. I am a Bahrain because my mother was Bahraini and I was born in Bahrain. But I am not limited in the culture of Saudi or Bahrain. I lived in France for a long time and that had a big impact on me, I cannot deny that. I wouldn’t be what I am if I did not mix up with all these other cultures. Are you afraid that the fame of the artist decreases the longevity of the art work? A lot of my artwork is revolting against our temporality. When you think about yourself, and human life, it is very temporary, very short, very weak, very vulnerable. In one way or another we react against that by creating things that will stay after we leave. In other words, I think that when I create it is an act of revolting against the temporality. I know that I will go, but this art work will stay after I go. To say this was our input in life. We are defying the ephemeral.
What’s your next series about? Have you said all that you can about distorted reality? Well, I thought that I had said all that I could have, but this chair came out by itself, it screamed, ‘I want to get born’. Right now I am working on two series at the same time. One of which I will show at the exhibition. It started with a drawing but it will go on to different medium. I don’t know what it will be. I was always searching for a drawing that will eliminate the artist behind it. It is about how you can make a drawing without feeling the artist’s touch behind it. When you look at a painting you see the lines, you see the brushstrokes, then you feel that there is a human interference that did this. What I am doing now is a new technique so that I don’t leave any trace or any line or any brushstroke. It is all about energy. It is not final, but I think the series will be called Domesticated Energy. It is the energy we have that can be domesticated. If you take it to another level you have contradictory or revolting energy which can be wild and very destructive, but at the same time they domesticate it. There is a political dimension in it: if you have a guy who is trying to bring the truth there is a certain energy. And then you see this guy taking a very high position and he quietens up.
I’m thinking Barack Obama... Something like that. But I am not talking about specifics, I am talking about domesticated energy. It is about how we deal with the energy in us. This energy is combined positive and negative energy. Is the positive good and the negative evil, as we always think? Or is that nonsense?
How do you work? I start with a subject. It takes time and goes through the inside laboratory before I start executing, it takes a lot of time. Sometimes you get very excited with the work, and if you execute it then you can find that it is premature. So I let it mature within me. For example, with Distorted Reality I started in 2005 and I spent one year and a half working on it. And then when I get convinced of the idea in my head, then I start the execution. But the execution takes a long time to perfect. And then I have some time after I have worked I take some space to travel.
Is you work inherently political? My work has different facets. I always use the metaphor of a Russian doll: you open it and you find something else. First of all, the most important thing is that is has to be visual, it has to be pleasant and nice. They are not purely conceptual: I am visual and conceptual combined together. Because if it is only visual, then it is hollow behind it, it is nothing: this is what we call decorative. Decorative art has no statement. So when you go behind my work, sometimes you find political sometimes you find spiritual.
Faisal Samra’s exhibition will open at the Albareh Art Gallery on March 7 at 7pm and runs until April 7. For more information on the exhibition, call the gallery on 17 717 707. For more information on the artist, visit www.faisalsamra.com.