Author: 
Afra Naushad | [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2012-04-18 21:51

Rifai is a Lebanese artist who began painting in 1973 and has been exhibiting in the Middle East and Europe since 1989. Interlude is a crisscrossing of dialogue deliberated between two of his previous collections titled “Circus of Life” and “Dervish.”
“My art is about my own perception of what is occurring around me and my Middle Eastern community. The Middle East in its reality resembles a circus, or a theatrical play. You have your heroes and villains, monsters and angels as well as the brave and the cowardly.”
The artist’s statement on the reception wall hardly sufficed the amusing spectacle I was plunged into. The exhibition boasted the razzle-dazzle of a successful farcical evening at the circus — canvases stroked in Popsicle colors of striking reds, oranges and yellows; a smattering of round, cherry noses; a one-eyed patch somewhere; a cage awaiting not the return of the poor gymnastic leopard who earned a thunderous round of applause, but a couple being bound in somber matrimony; and the absurd juxtaposition of figures awakening the induced trance by the juggler’s act.
Stark against the whimsical mood of the circus stood the many “Dervish,” the solitary observers, wise in their perceptions of the world. The nature, gender and identity of the Dervish remained questionable. He is seen transcending the spiritual, ideological and social bracketing of public position.
Caught examining with grave poignancy the meaningless performance of the world outside, the Dervish is a metaphor for the ordinary man who in the effort to guard his security and position, builds a private world, feeling protected and secure from the social occurrences that he feels are of no cause and effect to him.
But he forgets in his foolish, peasant-like simplicity that he is a pawn, juggled by the venerated and despicable power-clowns, self-promoted heroes, and undeserving celebrities who for better or worse affect his life forever.
Paintings like The Wedding Gift and The Emotional Nurse speak at great length about the celebrated ugliness of the mad world and the emotional refuge sought from the melodrama in the public jungle.
Some other paintings are caricatures of figures taken from popular oriental culture like the Dervish, Bahloul and Caracoz, who in many instances are found sealed from the trinity of speech, sight and hearing.
Rifai, with his keen diligence, has created an ambience of camaraderie, where in reality the crux of the matter is a prodding commentary on the Middle East’s social and political conundrum.
His style may not be precise and acute, but he has the ability to give the subjects he paints the power of transience, change and metamorphosis.
Interlude signifies the hiccup between two opposite poles on the same end — between what is desired and what is received. The two series together create an ensuing dialogue of wonder and meaning in the stage of life with all the characters of a theatrical performance intact.
“Art is the mirror of reality,” Rifai said.
The exhibition will run until May 3 at Athr Gallery in Jeddah.

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