Are We Not Human?

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Nothing to fear but fear itself, by Mohammad Abbas (Photo: Afif-Dimitri Haddad)

By: Rebecca Whiting

Published Thursday, February 28, 2013

“People today are being transformed into animals. They are filled with fear and anxiety. I am searching for the reasons behind this metamorphosis.”

For Syrian artist Mohammed Abbas, these thoughts were triggered two years ago by the political and social situation around him. Seeing a flock of sheep, he was transfixed by how much the animals’ behavior, their unified actions and loss of individuality, reflected the mutations in people he saw. And so began his project of depicting the internal distortion of human character.

Thick swathes of oil paint cover his canvasses in shadowy shades. Lugubrious animal faces atop humanoid bodies peer out from the murk, vacant eyes following you; sheep in fine clothing, a donkey looking lost at the front of a classroom, a pig clasping a rabbit in an uncomfortable embrace.

Dark humor lurks in the paint. This is not anthropomorphism, but the animal in humankind. Sagging bodies or foolish grins scream out a state of sickness.

I Beg to Differ shows a haggard line of sheep morbidly lacking ears and limbs, each clad in a white vest, save one standing out in red.

“In this consumerist society, choices have become limited to whatever is found on the market, not just consumer goods, but even ideas. Through Internet, TV, and education people have become duplicates of one another,” says Abbas.

“Observing the flock from the outside, one would see them all as alike, but within the group each one would perceive itself as an individual. Sometimes a person tries to express himself in a different manner, but he will always be a member of the flock.”

Rather than seeing his work as political, Abbas considers it to be social criticism. Initially driven by his experiences of Syria in the last few years, as his project developed, he saw these same traits as a general trend in human behavior.

For him, the castration and helplessness typical within the current political and social situation are mirrored in the behavior of beasts, with each animal representing a different state of mind.

Though historically, particularly in Pharaonic times, animals were deified, Abbas wants to depict their opposites – not the strength of a god-like being, but a weak and feeble character.

Amid the forlorn and defeated characters are the fiery eyes of ostriches with heads held high, which for Abbas represent defiance. “These were my second paintings, when I felt eager. As time passed, I felt more pessimistic and the characters’ eyes became blotted.”

Are We Not Human? is showing at ARTLAB Gallery in Gemmayzeh until 16 March.

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