The Middle East’s premier pop artist Marwan Chamaa brings love and loss to Dubai.

“Chagrin d’amour – The Musical” opens on 1 April at the Opera Gallery and runs through 14 April 2016. The exhibition features Marwan Chamaa’s signature “mélange of fiction, reality, and vanity.”

Marwan Chamaa. Image courtesy Plastik Magazine.

Marwan Chamaa. Image courtesy Plastik Magazine.

Marwan Chamaa was born in Beirut in 1964 and raised in Munich, Germany. In the 1980s, he studied Fine Art at the American University of Beirut, Beirut University College (now known as the Lebanese American University) and both Fine Art and the then new field of Computer Art at Washington D.C.’s Corcoran School of Art, and co-founded a “graphic design production house” to bring creativity to advertising.

Marwan Chamaa, 'Quand?', (Version 2), 2015, from the "Chagrin d’amour - The Musical" series, oil paint and acrylic paint on canvas, 120 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Marwan Chamaa, ‘Quand? (Version 2)’, 2015, from the “Chagrin d’amour – The Musical” series, oil paint and acrylic paint on canvas, 120 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Chamaa’s work has consistently crossed media and techniques throughout his creative career. He has lived in Lebanon, Germany and the United States, with two cities leaving a lasting mark both upon Chamaa and his artistic narratives – Beirut and New York City. The artist’s biography states that his work represents “a collection of impressionistic interpretations of his surroundings” with the series “Chagrin d’Amour – The Musical” inspired by pop art legends Keith HarringRoy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Marwan Chamaa, 'Give me my freedom' (triptych), 2015, from the "Chagrin d’amour - The Musical" series, acrylic paint on canvas, 209 x 298.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Marwan Chamaa, ‘Give Me My Freedom’, 2015, from the “Chagrin d’amour – The Musical” series, triptych, acrylic paint on canvas, 209 x 298.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

For this series, imagery from these three well-known artists or “vignettes”, as Chamaa calls them, are selectively placed in each painting. These tributes, as Chamaa relayed to Art Radar, are a perfect fit for this “heartfelt” series:

In “Chagrin d’amour – The Musical”, I use vignettes from famous pieces by Roy Lichtenstein in all the paintings; in one painting, “Give me my freedom”, I use the barking dog by Keith Haring, and in the “Quand?” Andy Warhol’s iconographic banana, the logo he used for Velvet Underground. I incorporate Lichtenstein as a backdrop to this particular series. This is a natural selection and represents a tribute to the pop artist, who since the beginning of his career, used comic books as subject matter in various paintings, just as I use comic strip characters in this series.

Marwan Chamaa, 'Not enough', 2015, from the "Chagrin d’amour - The Musical" series, acrylic paint on canvas, 120 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Marwan Chamaa, ‘Not Enough’, 2015, from the “Chagrin d’amour – The Musical” series, acrylic paint on canvas, 120 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Marwan Chamaa, 'Your Eyes', 2015, from the "Chagrin d’amour - The Musical" series, acrylic paint on canvas, 120 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Marwan Chamaa, ‘Your Eyes’, 2015, from the “Chagrin d’amour – The Musical” series, acrylic paint on canvas, 120 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Combined with cheeky and passionately intertwined subjects, Chamaa inserts Arabic lyrics from Middle Eastern love songs from such beloved singers as Om Kolthoum, Abed el Halim Hafez, Asmahan and Farid el Atrache. As Beirut Art Fair founder Laure d’Hauteville told Art Radar, this assemblage of vintage comic book imagery and lyrics from the 1940s to 1960s creates something quite unusual:

In series “Chagrin d’amour – The Musical”, Marwan Chamaa’s artwork juxtaposes famed artist Roy Lichtenstein’s imagery alongside Arabic script. In doing so, he creates a different narrative for the viewer, perhaps in an effort to engage the public into the context of traditional, vintage Western comic strips.

Click here to hear a tarab by Om Kolthoum “Enta Omri” on YouTube

These lyrics provide the muse for Chamaa’s “musical”, as the artist told Art Radar, capturing the very spirit and essence of “emotional transformation” through what is known in Arabic music as tarab:

The term “tarab” refers to utter rapture and exhilaration. It is a pure emotion that is achieved by surpassing reality and stoically reaching euphoria. I believe that “tarab” represents the purest form of poetry, it is also the perfect means to express the transcendental nature of being and falling in love. Like the purity of tarab, the paintings themselves, at a first glance, are simple and two dimensional. The colors are predominantly primary and pulsating. But also like the complexity of tarab, they mesmerize and enchant by their trancelike characteristics. You are transfixed by the multi dots of Lichtenstein, hypnotized by the character’s eyes, or puzzled by the motives and events of the scenes.

Lisa Pollman
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Related Topics: events in Dubai, gallery shows, Lebanese artists, News, Pop art

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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