Shereen Audi and Cattle Republic: Emotion and Technique
In the new show at Zara, a pair of very different artists explore similar themes of reality and fantasy, freedom and alienation.
By John Lillywhite
July 01, 2010
CATTLE REPUBLIC AND SHEREEN AUDI make very different kinds of art. What’s the link between a mother of two who creates images of women with wings and Gucci handbags, and a tech-savvy urban duo whose work bears titles like “regurgitating imported vomit”?
Audi has recently returned from Bahrain, where her work was in a group show at Albareh Gallery, along with 10 other female artists from the Middle East. Her last local exhibition, Expressions of a Free Soul, also at Zara, was described glowingly by JO as “lipstick art." Its themes were escape, happiness and the balance between freedom and responsibility, and it was replete with images of fairies and fashion models, made into a sort of post-pop pastiche.
Cattle Republic is the duo of Ahmad Sabbagh and Michael Schinkoethe, also known as “Typism.” Sabbagh has a degree in graphic design, and trained for five years with the artists Ahmad Shawish and Husni Abu Krayyem. (Schinkoethe wasn’t in the country to be interviewed.)
Together, the pair was also among the founders of the urban art collective Blouzaat, which produces dark, graffiti-influenced images, often witty and acerbic, but laced with violence and bizarre abnormality. It also creates books and T-shirts, which it sells online. Now they’ve redeveloped the urban art style into Cattle Republic, a new initiative that Sabbagh says is aimed more squarely at Amman’s art space.
Sabbagh describes his key preoccupation as an artist as technical and compositional, whereas Audi’s work celebrates the personal and the emotional, referencing celebrity culture, pop art, and materialism.
So there seems an inherent contradiction in these artists exhibiting together, as they are currently doing at Zara Gallery.
“I think the contrast between us is going to work out very well,” explains Sabbagh.
Their show, surprisingly, is not just about contrasts: The work of these disparate artists has evolved to complement each other in surprising and subtle ways.
Audi’s is certainly different. “This exhibition is far more me,” says Audi, comparing it to Free Soul. Instead of using a collage-heavy mix of media, she’s has gone back to acrylics for the new show—the same materials she was using 15 years ago. And the message and mood of the work feels very, very different. Her characters still have wings, but they’re tied down.
“Recently I’ve felt my life getting harder,” Audi explains. “At the same time, I’m happier with this work, as it expresses me from deep inside. Before I was not quite satisfied, but now I know what I’m doing.”
The sense of glamour is certainly gone. In one piece, two men stand with their backs to the viewer, one in white, the other in black. They’re separated by prison bars—the latest motif to find its way into Audi’s work. The artist’s favorite piece is set against a blood-red background: A winged woman looks outwards, but her eyes are blindfolded.
“There is a red line in each piece. … This is the red line I cannot cross as a female, or there will be disaster,” Audi says. “There’s always a red line.”
If Audi’s work is still quite far from Cattle Republic’s urban sheen, it’s just as concerned with the place of an individual in the modern age.
“Life moves you, you don’t move life,” she says. “I don’t know if my work is becoming darker. … It’s about living the way I want to live, not the way I have to live. To live in another life which doesn’t exist, or to go somewhere else but not be able to. … So perhaps it is a little more serious.”
Audi’s utopian world has become a little more conflicted, as if fazed by an unwanted confrontation with reality. As for Sabbagh, he suggests that his work has always had reality as its object—albeit injected with a certain amount of humor. Describing the world as it is, he says, is the essence of urban art.
“It’s about the city, the environment we have around us. Usually the artist is inspired by landscape, ocean and sunset … but we replace these things with the influences around us, so that the trees become city lights.”
When asked to what extent urban art is applicable to the white sandstone valleys of Amman, Sabbagh argues that simply by adding Arabic typography and working spontaneously with Schinkoethe, the work becomes sensitive to its surroundings—an unsatisfying answer. JO raised this question before, with regard to an earlier exhibition by Sabbagh and Schinkoethe, and we still feel it looms large over many of their pieces.
The cap-clad, gun-toting boy in one of the newer works may be interesting in terms of color, composition and tone, but how does this Western-looking child-thug relate to Amman? In a piece called “Pocket Money,” a small boy squats peering directly up a young girl's raised skirt, with the borders of the work bathed in a bright pink. In Germany or New York such a piece probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow—the attempt at shock value might even be regarded as a little worn. In Amman it’s more edgy and controversial, but it also seems deracinated, not quite relevant. (And either piece, if done featuring local characters, could have been a bombshell bit of social commentary.)
Still, taken together, Audi's and Cattle Republic’s work has lead to a subtle and creative exhibition. Cattle Republic is trying to bridge the divide between graphic design, online media and mainstream art (they’re also developing the Blouzaat concept further). They hope to change Amman's art scene, and make it more accessible.
Meanwhile Audi manages to traverse the demands of motherhood and womanhood in a way almost everyone can relate to.
“It's not so much about women as it is about me,” she says. Her work has a sensitivity but also a boldness—and though her palette has become far less colorful, her characters remain as sympathetic as they ever were, if not more so.
For both its contrasts and its continuities, this is an exhibition worth catching.
Shereen Audi and Cattle Republic will be showing their work at Zara Gallery until July 26.
Jordan Today | February 2005 | Issue 18 | Page 36
An exhibition of Paintings by Artist Shereen Audi
At Zara Gallery from 1st to 24th February
Using Rai music to set the atmosphere of her world, Audi creates something unique that is filled with shapes and forms. She does not paint reality, but rather paints about reality, creating a sense of mystery in her pieces. Disregarding the rules of study, Audi takes the liberty to draw according to her own tastes, and using simple colors she generates a virtual dialogue that connects the symbols and colors of the works with the viewer.
“What drives me to draw is what I feel deep inside of me, and naturally I don’t give names to my drawings because I want each observer of my drawing to have his own impression and feelings are different than mine”.
The canvas is used up in portraying the forms of eyes and mouths, traversed by lines and blue colors reflecting calmness and serenity. Heart combined with deep red roses are shown in all their splendor, expressing acceptance, and happiness in wonderful hues, blending blues, reds and greens. Audi believes that by using splashes of these colors, a defined realism is conjured up whereby the abstract is translated into an everyday living being. In her displays of sadness, dark backgrounds created by blending black and grays form the backdrop from disguised shapes that instill a yearning for freedom in the viewer.
“When I paint, I never plan what to paint, rather my feelings drive my brush, which gets the best emotions out of me and prints an image on the canvas. Since my childhood I painted what I saw on small pieces of paper, which included human figures in fashion wear. As I grew older, I started to paint out of my imagination and displayed what these figures mean to me. I never thought that this would lead me to stand where I am now in a fantastic world of art. Rai music creates a great atmosphere that helps me create something different”.