A Distorted Reality: Saudi artist Faisal Samra at Ayyam Gallery, Dubai

Faisal Samra explores the “Distorted Reality” of images, advertising and global media.

Ayyam Gallery Dubai hosts Saudi artist Faisal Samra’s 2008 photographic series “Distorted Reality”. Art Radar talks to the artist about this body of work. 

Faisal Samra, 'Performance # 19 (detail), Distorted Reality series', 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 40 x 53 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, ‘Performance # 19 (detail), Distorted Reality series’, 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 40 x 53 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Improvisation as survival strategy

Faisal Samra began the “Distorted Reality” series in 2005, when he first used the medium of photography to document ‘performances’ in which the artist twists masks, animals, fabrics and all kinds of artefacts across his face until it disappears. Art Radar asked Faisal Samra about the notion of performance he is exploring in this body of work, now on show at Ayyam Gallery Dubai. The artist responded by reflecting on what he calls “improvisation” as strategy:

Distorted Reality began with Improvisation. The idea came to me when I realized the extent to which our lives have been invaded by fake images and lies. I was looking outside of my car window one day and it suddenly struck me that there was not a single meter in my entire field of vision that was not covered with images, advertisements, or information […] I understood that I, among others, was being drugged, on both an aural and visual level, with an overdose of illusion (an altered reality).

Installation view at Faisal Samra "Distorted Reality", Ayyam Gallery Dubai, 2017.

Installation view at Faisal Samra “Distorted Reality”, Ayyam Gallery Dubai, 2017.

Faisal Samra continues:

I immediately felt a desperate need to escape. When I stopped and thought about what was all around me, when I really concentrated, I began to see things more clearly. I asked myself, “What do I need to do?” and the first thing that came to me was “I need to improvise.” Then I thought, “What are the tools that are used to distort reality?” “Images, and above all, performance,” I deliberated. So I decided to utilize performance in order to make improvisations.

The photographs of the “improvisations” are inevitably blurred as the camera fails to capture the specificity of both the movements deployed in the performance and the objects or materials used. Samra offers the viewer a vibrant haze of an act whose meaning cannot be stabilised, a post-performative blurr of movement, colour and texture.

Faisal Samra, 'Performance # 13 (detail), Distorted Reality series', 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 40 x 53 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, ‘Performance # 13 (detail), Distorted Reality series’, 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 40 x 53 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, 'Performance # 61, Distorted Reality series', 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 40 x 53 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, ‘Performance # 61, Distorted Reality series’, 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 40 x 53 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Images of resistance to the noise of the media

This lack of specificity and the inability to “read” the face is central to the work, which investigates the condition of the image in relation to financial capitalism, globalisation and the post 9/11 world. The impossibility of seeing the artist’s face in the photographs is both a means of resisting the increasing use of facial recognition technologies in state surveillance programmes as well as the de-individualising effect of the global circulation of images that “lie to us”, as the artist states. Talking more about his analysis of images, Faisal Samra told Art Radar:

Everyone walks alike, talks alike, dresses alike, and even eats similar food. And so, by means of this obliterating lifestyle, our identity – our unique face – is being stealthily robbed. In Distorted Reality, I have imitated or better yet simulated the experience of being immersed in, even a part of, and a fake reality, of being under the charm of a manufactured and managed culture.

Faisal Samra, 'Performance # 47, Distorted Reality series', 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 100 x 133.33 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, ‘Performance # 47, Distorted Reality series’, 2007, Lambda print, triptych, 100 x 133.33 cm each. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Installation view at Faisal Samra "Distorted Reality", Ayyam Gallery Dubai, 2017.

Installation view at Faisal Samra “Distorted Reality”, Ayyam Gallery Dubai, 2017.

A nomad wandering through time

Faisal Samra was born in Bahrain as a Saudi national and graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He worked as an art and graphic design consultant in Paris and later as a stage designer for Saudi television. Having lived and worked in Paris, New York, Beirut, and spending time in Marrakesh and the Far-East, Samra describes himself as a “nomad wandering through time”. The amalgam of perspectives towards global and national histories that Samra has been privy to in each of his adopted homes has enabled him to see the constructedness of nationalisms and their related identities. This is particularly relevant when considering the series “Distorted Reality”, which dives deep into the subjective experience of standardised global narratives repeated to banality across the media.

Faisal Samra, Installation view of C.D.R - "Construction, Destruction & Reconstruction", 2014, Ayyam Gallery London.

Faisal Samra, Installation view of C.D.R – “Construction, Destruction & Reconstruction”, 2014, Ayyam Gallery London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, ‘Zeina from C.D.R. series’, 2014, 120 x 180 cm, Diasec Print. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Faisal Samra, ‘Zeina from C.D.R. series’, 2014, Diasec print, 120 x 180 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Construction, Destruction & Reconstruction

In his previous solo exhibition at the Ayyam Gallery’s London branch in 2014, Samra first began analysing processes of “construction” of self, identity, national narratives and even the body and health. In the exhibition project entitled “Construction, Destruction & Reconstruction”, the artist began by considering the role of construction in everyday life, from the role of sleep and dreams in relation to the construction of the ego to the construction of the Middle East as a territory. The artist’s works, which were mostly video in this exhibition, referenced the invasion of Iraq in 2003, reflecting upon the simultaneous exotification and derision of the Arab world by the Western media, and how this relies on particular cultural framing and cultural “reconstructions”.

In Zeina, Samra addresses destruction and reconstruction during his wife’s chemotherapy after a diagnosis of breast cancer. The polyptych documents the three stages of “Zeina” – before, during and after the treatment. In his most personal work, the body is foregrounded as the most intimate and important site of creation, destruction and regrowth.

Rebecca Close

1977

“Distorted Reality” by Faisal Samra is on view from 1 November 2017 to 4 January 2018 at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (DIFC), Gate Village Building 3, DIFC, Dubai, UAE.

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