Artist Bernard Hage ‘undresses’ the advertising industry

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One of Bernard Hage's pieces titled "Toy Inside" on display at ArtLab gallery in Gemmayzeh, Beirut until November 29 as part of his exhibition titled “Undressed - Society's Reflection in Its Brands.” Photo by Bernard Hage

By: Rawan Ezzeddin

Published Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bernard Hage, 26, mocks the big multinational companies that have unified the world with roaring laughter and children chasing their future, quickly growing up like in Nestlé commercials.

In "Undressed - Society's Reflection in Its Brands," hosted by ArtLab gallery in Gemmayze, Hage dismisses the efforts and budgets of major companies that present idealistic promotions of their products. He subverts these joyous promotional moments to "undress" social crises, and mocks practices by advertising companies, particularly their chief aim of making a profit.

In his 18 sketches, drawn in black ink riddled with red stains, hunger, authority, environmental pollution, poverty and fraud are transformed into sarcastic, nightmarish scenes.

The Lebanese artist studied graphic design and had, until recently, worked in major advertising companies. His work is based on a phrase he heard all the time: "Advertising reflects the mores of society but it does not influence them.”

Hage wanted to experiment on global products to reflect the "real" society that multinational companies try to hide. When reality is invoked, only dark and miserable scenes come to mind. But what if commercial promotions were not as overtly optimistic as accustomed to? What if they expressed society and its collective practices in a transparent – but radical – manner?

Through his sketches, Hage creates smart anti-ads, inspired by the brand and its image, the product's concept, its allure and “services” to the consumer. For example, a box of McDonald's fries is transformed into hundreds of hungry hands poking out of a frail red human body.

Despite the positive impact some global products have on the lives of children, the same companies benefit from the exploitation of child labor in poor countries. Instead of getting a toy, they are invited to work in the company’s factories for long hours.

Another evocative sketch by Hage is that of a Kinder Surprise egg. Instead of a small toy, it contains a frail African child. This is a toy that brings joy to children around the world, but not to those of Somalia, for example.

Despite the seeming absence of vivid colors, the blood-red blotches are enough to focus on the embossed and bare. Intended to shock, the artist's style is expressed in drawing nightmarish scenes that are exaggerated by styles inspired by comics and caricatures. The majority of the sketches depict repulsive human and animal organs, and equally repulsive practices. A Budweiser can becomes a woman's body with her behind showing and an insect pulling down her underwear. A Durex condom is portrayed as a monster with fangs, ready to attack its prey.

An unnerving chaos overwhelms the exhibition: iPhones with jail cell bars, bats and viscous fluids on a J'adore Dior perfume bottle, and a can of Red Bull sexually impaled by a bull.

Next to his drawings, Hage presents two short videos in black and white. The two films, drenched in sarcasm, play on the negative impact the product could evoke. The blender and shotgun commercials end in a tragedy, evoking the color red or simply blood hidden by major companies thanks to their enormous budgets.

“Undressed - Society's Reflection in Its Brands” will be exhibited by ArtLab gallery (Gemmayze St., Beirut) until November 29. For information, call: 03/244577

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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