Saturday, December 11, 2010

Refashioning Arab Pop Culture for a New Generation

Corinne Martin, the Lebanese-Texan artist, talks to The Polyglot about her love of Arab Pop, her multi-cultural upbringing, and living in the Saudi capital.
You’ve had an interesting upbringing, has that influenced your approach to art?I was born in France and raised in Lebanon before moving to the United States, where I got my degree in Graphic Communications and Art History. I initially began making sculptures and was featured in a number of art exhibits in the U.S. with some intriguing titles such as “Proper Hygiene”, “Candy from Strangers” and “Crime Scenes”. In 2007, I returned to my roots in the Middle East and began working with mixed media and painting.

Much of your work draws on iconography from popular Arab culture. Why do you think that is?I’ve always drawn inspiration from those iconic images, because they reflect the experiences of a younger generation of Arabs who came of age between the East and West. It’s a reflection of what we grew up watching on television, the music we listened too and even the food we ate. All of that has shaped our visual culture, and that kind of art resonates with so many people because it has an emotional connection to their past. I also explore the affects of globalization on the Middle East and in particular how it’s changed the lives of young women coming of age in the Arabian Gulf region.
Where do you source your inspiration?
I find it in everyday objects. I’m especially intrigued by the advertising and packaging you’d find in a supermarket. When you see a typical western product such as a box of Tide rendered in Arabic script, it takes on a completely different meaning. In a sense my paintings are a sly nod to the consumerist culture in which we live. You could draw parallels to the consumerism found in the Middle East today, to what was going on in America in the 50’s and 60’s.

How has your work been received in Riyadh, where you currently live?Although my paintings and photography are currently represented by Cities and Lam Art Gallery in Centria Mall, as well as DNA Boutique, Saudi culture has only recently begun to explore the work of contemporary artists living within its midst. One unforgettable moment was when I was asked to take part in a joint exhibit at the L’Art Pur Gallery here, showcasing the work of 25 emerging artists in the region. I remember observing a group of young Saudi girls standing in front my paintings with this sense of wonder. They couldn’t believe a woman had painted such bold statements using composition and color. At that very moment I thought, “Go girl power!”

Any inspiring art scenes in the Middle East?I would have to say it’s Beirut. There is so much energy there in terms of what’s going on in art and design that you can’t help but be inspired. You could walk through Gemmayze’s winding streets and find an amazing piece of Arabic graffiti on a wall, and then enter a boutique and see a clutch by Sarah’s Bag with the exact same graffiti on it. There is a freedom of experimentation there that brings an immediacy to the art scene, that you just don’t find in other parts of the region.

Have you discovered any gems in the Saudi Capital?The King Abdul Aziz historical area has miles of landscaped gardens and waterfalls, and on Fridays it’s filled with hundreds of Saudi families lying on rugs. Picture Central Park in the middle of Riyadh, filled with kids playing in water, women getting henna drawings on their hands, men lounging with coffee in one hand and prayer beads in the other. Not far is the Qasr Murabba, King Abdul Aziz’s palace, which was built in 1946 and gives you an idea of what the capital was like prior to the oil boom. The reception rooms are still filled with the original furnishings, and display traditional costumes and weapons.

Has living in Saudi changed the way you work as an artist?Living in Riyadh has been quite a unique experience. As a woman, I spend quite a bit of time at home as most women do here. But thankfully as an artist I can work anywhere, so I don’t really feel restricted. My studio has large windows that look out onto a swimming pool, and a wall of shelves filled with my collection of art and design books. Some days it gets so bright that I have to wear sunglasses indoors while I’m working. That may explain why my paintings have gotten progressively brighter!

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