Talent is difficult to find in this day and age with the amount of artists popping up here and there in the region, but true talent arises when you least expect it. One of these young talents is 25-year-old Ali Cha’aban, born and raised in Kuwait and of Lebanese origin. With work being displayed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, this artist is not your everyday type of artist. He has a keen interest in anthropology, a subject he studied earlier and that helped grow his curiosity, which progressed his fascination of modern cultural terms. He mixes fun with the serious, old with the new and sarcasm with the controversial. Some of his projects include typography and calligraphy as well as other society-based mix, one of which is named “Our society remix” where he portrays a number of heroes, protagonists and antagonists of modern society and characters such as from the movie “The Avengers,” “Thor” as a flirt and “Captain America” as a McChicken. Another is “Film” where he used classical Arab actors, actresses and comedians and turns them into the hipster form of the modern age. These include actors like Rushdi Abathah, comedian Ismael Yaseen and the beautiful actress Suad Hosni. It’s his personal method of expression and the way he relates to modernity which has put him in the spotlight. He is a self proclaimed “non-artist,” simply someone with a loud message.
You have a love for making things cartoony, satirical, funny and loud. How do you find that mix?
I’m a westernized kid, no joke about that, and where I come from they tend to call kids like me “Chicken Nuggets” or “McChickens” because we blend our Arabic and English together. So you see it’s not just me, everyone has the ability to add that notion or ability to blend in Western and Eastern connotations. What I like to do is approach any Arabian situation and give it that ghetto twist, I’ve done it with “You feel me bro” and “Chillax,” it’s a cultural thing that delights me. Art is meant to disturb, so if you initiate a reaction from the viewer, whether good or bad, your message was successful.
You specialize in pop art, your creations are witty and very satiric, bringing humor to clothing that anyone can wear. How did you turn your art into a fashion line?
I always use this inverse description to describe myself: “I’m not an artist,” which contradicts who I really am, that is the latter. Meaning, I didn’t turn to fashion designing, on the contrary, I’m still an artist but I don’t like to limit myself, I like to dabble in fields that are not of my expertise, even if I fail at least I tried. I treat fashion designing just like art, limited amount, inspired by a message and I try to make it as visually appealing as possible.
Your art pieces have been showcasing in exhibitions as early as 2008, what do you owe your success to throughout all these years?
There’s so much to be thankful for. Friends who have inspired me in ways they can’t comprehend. Society that has been ever-so-changing and fast paced. Technology, to help spread my work across borders I didn’t even think it was possible. I dunno if I should say my fans, because I don’t believe I’ve reached that point of notoriety.
What makes your work different from others? Some call you a copy cat, others don’t, what makes your work original as a response to the critics?
My work contains a message whether evident or vague, I can’t please everyone and I’m not trying to either. The way I approach any art piece all starts from a simple conversation or a witty comment/comeback, then it is denoted and later visualized into a piece that contains the very message it was inspired by. This is why I’d like to say I’m original because it all sprouts up from the silliest of conversations. Also to add, “not every art, is art” so not everything I showcase or post is considered art, sometimes I design things just to help spread an idea or a message, which is why sometimes people call me a “copycat.”
Your topics as of recent have diverted from the Hollywood scene (actors depicted in your T-shirts a while ago) to more Arab, Khaleeji-oriented, why the change of heart?
I love it when people notice that, I discovered my Arabism in a later stage which saddens me, and just recently in the beginning of 2013 I started learning calligraphy and tashkeel, which I incorporate heavily in my work because I’m extremely proud of my background. Why showcase westernized ideas, when there are so many topics, heritage and visuals to work with back in Arabia. Like my recent “Halal\Haram” work which was displayed in Ayyam gallery, which I’m so proud of.
You worked with a number of well-known Kuwaiti and Saudi personalities such as the Kuwaiti blogger Ascia Al-Faraj, Fahad Albutairy and Hisham Fakieh to name a few. Please tell the readers about your work with them.
All of these you mentioned are actually great friends, first, and then, business colleagues. In fact, Ascia and I have never even worked together, except recently. I’m currently working on a project with her and her husband Ahmed. I’ve known her before her rise to fame and I’ve been a supporter. Fahad, him and I go way back. I owe him a lot, he’s been a great supporter of my work, owns two of my artworks, and appeared in one of my “chillax” sweaters in Ala’a Wardi’s Happy video. Fahad is my go-to guy when I need advice on relativity, I’ve worked with him as an art director on one of his shows in Kuwait along with creating the infamous logo for “Manhood school” for the Khambalah show. Hisham is another buddy of mine, great personality and spirit, I was the artist behind the infamous “No Woman, No Drive” song artwork cover that went insanely viral a couple of months back.
Why don’t you consider yourself an artist?
Once a person is labeled as something, they fall into a field and they’re limited to whatever that field has got to offer. I always like saying I’m not an artist even in art fairs and galleries because it tends to confuse the audience and they conjure the same question “But why do you say that?” which I find hilarious.
It always works great with critics, people who tend to degrade my work with comments, that they themselves don’t have a proper background about; when a random person with no artistic background comes and feels like they have the audacity to say “You call this art?” I reply, “No, I’m not an artist.”
Your latest work includes a lot of Arab phrases turned sarcastic impressionism as well as deranged idioms. What message do you send with phrases such as “Aint No Mahram“?
“Ain’t No Mahram” was inspired by the LA label Dimepiece, which became famous for their “Ain’t No Wifey” tops. That tee pissed me off, because it denotes this bad girl attitude, and the “I’m not wifey material” persona, which I feel should be frowned upon in our culture. So I made a comeback top, being “Ain’t No Mahram” as a reply highlighting “Well I’m not husband material either, honey.” As of recent, this top has been posted about in many fashion blogs, both Arab and Western, even to the point that some have posted pictures of people wearing the contradictory tops next to one another.
How do you choose the subjects and topics for your pieces? What motivates you?
They’re all inspired by the mot random and silliest of conversations. What I like to do is to surround myself with interesting characters and people, from stand-up comedians to writers and producers, and converse with them about everyday topics. Their way of deciphering information maybe different than mine but it is as interesting, the way they reflect upon life and recent events is epic, and they’re all jotted down in my red Moleskine.
How do you start your creative process after choosing a subject?
Visualizing an idea has various stages. First, you actually ask yourself if you want to commit to the idea or not, many times you find yourself working on an artwork that is not really relative anymore and finding yourself scrubbing the whole project. Second comes controversy, is it too controversial? Is the topic you chose too out there or is the viewer going to comprehend it peacefully? Do you even care if the viewer misunderstood it? Which in my case is probably most of the time. Third comes selection, form, and medium; what form of art do you want to produce? Is the idea stronger if it’s typographic or if it’s supported with a visual? What form of visual do you want to use? Do you want it colorful or very dark and static? What will interact with the viewer more? Finally comes medium; which way do you want to execute the artwork? Aesthetics matter a lot, sometimes even more than the artwork. People care about the artwork being aesthetically pleasing and decorative. When my message is structured in the form of art both aesthetically and physically, then I’m content.