Symbols of peace and tranquility

Symbols of peace and tranquility, stripped nude


The Daily Star July 15, 2013

By Chirine Lahoud

The Daily Star


BEIRUT: Stripped women – a subject that elicits excitement from some, admiration from others, and which has historically constituted a source of inspiration for artists. For Lebanese painter Maher Kouraytem, nude women are symbols of peace and tranquility. “Stripped” – the latest show at Gemmayzeh’s Artlab – displays a collection of acrylic-on-canvas works dwelling on the artist’s representation of women. Kouraytem’s compositions enable the viewer to interpret each painting differently. The female body is not represented here as something obscene or an object of sexual pleasure, but simply as a means to transport the onlooker into various artistic realms.

Looking at Kouraytem’s paintings may plunge the viewer into nostalgia, admiration and doubt. There are no clues concerning the identity of the women represented on his canvases. Gallerist Antoine Haddad has revealed, however, that half of the paintings came directly from the artist’s imagination, while the other half was inspired by women posing in front of him.

Kouraytem’s nude muses give the body a new significance. The titles of the works put viewers into an analytical frame of mind where they will see their own status in society mirrored. The nude body becomes not the woman represented on the canvas, but that of whoever is looking at it.

“Sober,” “Hiding,” “Delirium” and “Aroused” – these emotional and physical states are among the subjects explored by the artist in his paintings.

The 100x100 cm “Sober” is a close-up of a woman’s face. The black and white shades used by Kouraytem enable the viewer to focus on what he deems the most important features: the eyes and mouth. The woman’s lips are sealed, as though she is physically preventing herself from talking. The dark hues used to paint the lips mirror those used for the eyes.

Everyone knows the old English adage: “The eyes are the window to the soul.” In “Sober,” the woman’s eyes are the only aspect of the painting to reflect the light. Kouraytem’s technique draws the onlooker deep into the woman’s eyes, as though seeking the truth. Her gaze – straight at the viewer, her pupils dilated – is somehow at once compelling and disturbing.

In other works, similarities in style with renowned painters become evident. Kouraytem’s “Delirium” (100x100 cm) pictures a brownish, headless body. The legs and breasts are painted as though tailored. The cubistic rendering of the woman’s body recalls Pablo Picasso’s “African Period” (1906-1909), in which the great Spanish master was inspired by African art, and especially sculptures, to paint some of his masterworks.

Although “Delirium” is reminiscent of Picasso’s style, it retains Kouraytem’s own artistic touch. An impression of serenity emanates from the painting. This dismantled body is somewhat hypnotizing in its simplicity. Its three nipples in particular attract the viewer’s attention, not because of their irregularity but for the sense they communicate that eyes are protruding from the canvas.

Simplicity of representation seems to be the artist’s leitmotif. “Hiding” (100x100 cm), captures a bluish body, curled up and headless. The title of the painting demands an interrogative analysis: Who is hiding? Is it the body itself? Or maybe the head, hidden in order to prevent anyone from recognizing the woman? Or does the work aim to make a wider social point about people hiding behind the shallow shell of their bodies?

“Pink Owl” and “Blue Owl” (both 120x100 cm) bear no similarities with Kouraytem’s other paintings. As the titles suggest, they represent owls with big, round eyes, the choice of blue and pink perhaps symbolizing gender. The only affiliation they appear to have with the nudes that make up the remainder of the exhibition lies in the shape of their eyes, which recall the round shapes of the women’s breasts. This is as far as the comparison extends.

Kouraytem’s works plunge the onlooker into a deep analysis of the female body as an intermediary between what we know of our own bodies and what they stand for in society.

Maher Kouraytem’s “Stripped” is now on show at Artlab until Aug. 3. For more information, please call 03-244-577.


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