US president joins Will Smith in national dress for new art show
What’s the best way to make art accessible to the average person? According to Abu Dhabi-based artist Mohamed Kanoo, the key is to break the ice. ‘The reason I wanted to apply a tinge of humour in this exhibition is so that it doesn’t intimidate someone who might be interested in viewing art for the first time,’ he explains. ‘I tried to make it as welcoming as possible for viewers. I also try to internationalise it as much as possible.’
His latest exhibition, ‘Fun w/ Fen’ (‘fen’ in Arabic translates as ‘art’) is running at Meem Gallery until Thursday July 5 and features various mediums including photography, silk-screen digital prints and installations.
You don’t need a degree in art history to see that many of the works are inspired by the grandfathers of pop art. ‘I love the portraits of Andy Warhol, the artworks of Roy Lichtenstein and the craziness of Jackson Pollock. But of late, I’m very much inspired by the work of Jeff Koons, who I met at the last Abu Dhabi Art Fair a few months ago. He was such a nice gentleman, but beyond that, he has a great sense of humour with his art. That was one of the main inspirations for this exhibition.’
Throughout the show, subtle hints touch on serious themes, such as acceptance and identity, yet the artist says the central idea is more general than that. ‘The theme is of art as being accessible and acceptable,’ says Kanoo. ‘This is very important: art in a traditional context is not yet evolved enough to be acceptable by everyone. A person views my work and understands the message straight off, and that’s where I’d like to see the contemporary Arab art movement heading.’
A fundamental appreciation for the arts is something that Kanoo says the region is lacking. ‘Creativity needs to have value in the Arab world, and at the moment it’s not being given the value it deserves,’ he explains. ‘Here, we’ve not been able to commercialise it and monetise it like the West – and even the East – has been able to. This is a goal we really need to head towards.’ Here, the artist shares some of his most interesting works.
Questions of Identity, above ‘Pop artist Andy Warhol used a series of artworks with photos of Mao Zedong [China’s Chairman Mao]. Ironically, at the time, Zedong was the last remaining communist leader and he wanted to destroy capitalism, so it was ironic that his image would be used on a work of art that would generate millions in the capitalist world. Many artists want to recreate Andy Warhol’s work and use the same theme. I thought: Why don’t I just put different headdresses on the guy and see what he looks like? That’s what inspired the collection.
‘I chose people that are easily recognisable. There are few that are a little bit more difficult – especially some of the historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. I had a lot of fun putting them together and I get a tremendous buzz when I see people looking at the works and trying to work out who they are. It drives them mad. There’s also a serious message: at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you look like, or what you’re wearing – we’re all human beings.’
Great Wave of Dubai, above ‘Part of the collection is inspired by artworks of other great artists. This is a blatant one. You’ve seen this image in different contexts a million times, probably. Katsushika Hokusai is a very famous Japanese woodblock artist, and the series of artworks he created were featured on posters that were used to popularise different parts of Japan.
‘In the Hokusai work I chose, the wave is arcing over Mount Fuji in the middle. So I thought: Let’s take it a little bit more regional and have some tongue-in-cheek fun with this. I wanted to use something that everyone in the region would recognise. I plonked in Burj Al Arab instead of Mount Fuji and I put a dhow in its place – I changed the context a little.’
Stormtrooper Shemagh, above ‘This piece was inspired by a collection of artworks that was curated in New York about two or three years ago. A hundred artists were sent a Darth Vader helmet and were told to go crazy and do something artistic with it, with the proceeds going to charity. My invitation was obviously lost in the mail, so I decided I wanted to create one myself anyway.
‘I put a shemagh on the Darth Vader helmet, and this inspired me to do the same thing with different types of helmets. It spoke to me. I did a whole collection of them: I have a German WWII helmet, a British WWII helmet – these are authentic helmets. I got them from the internet.’
50-cal cigar gun, above ‘This combines two things I really enjoy. I’m very appreciative of guns and the technical elements. They can be so terrible to humanity, yet technically they’re such efficient and beautiful things. I love smoking cigars, so I wanted to pay homage to one of my favourite pastimes. I combined the two in this zany installation. The gun is inspired by a very famous machine gun called the M82. That’s a 50-calibre gun with really big bullets – they look like cigars. I replaced those scary bullets with those great cigars. I had a lot of fun with that.’
From page 1: Clockwise from top left: Joseph Stalin, Will Smith, Prince William, Barack Obama, Yul Brynner, William Hurt and Viggo Mortensen.