Feature: Anas Al Horani. Photography: Courtesy of Karim Gallery
Karim Gallery exhibits the work of visionary artist Sinan Hussein
This month, Karim Gallery is exhibiting Sinan Hussein’s latest exhibition, About Dream, from 3 December to 10 January. Established in 2007 in Amman, Jordan by art aficionados and collectors Karim Kaleel and Hania Zawaneh, and revamped last year, Karim Gallery has always boasted a remarkable sense for great contemporary art. And in its third exhibition in a row, it firmly establishes that.
Sinan Hussein is a prolific, outspoken artist. When I first met him, he almost immediately started talking about art, spirituality and contemporary politics. In the first group exhibition he took part of in Hafez Al Daroubi Hall in Baghdad 2004, his works were lauded for bravely inhabiting a surreal and dreamy reality populated with provocative symbolism. Shortly afterwards, he received a complimentary award for fine arts in the Iraqi capital.
Not that Hussein cares about prizes or institutional recognition. Asked about his influences, he answers with typical playfulness, “No particular artist has influenced me,” He considers for a second then continues, “However, one or two art schools might have. I have always admired Rococo and consider my artworks a mix of Rococo and modernism.”
The curious mix of Rococo and various modernist schools shows in Hussein’s paintings. His characters are spiritual beings, indelibly set apart from the material world by third eyes, missing limbs, or floating auras; and the intensity of colours counterbalances the ephemerality of these visions. Sinan Hussein’s fascination with mythology is as clear as day. His first solo exhibition was titled Gilgamesh Towards Eternity and some of his earliest work was done in church spaces. “It all began with my fascination with churches,” Hussein says. “Since I was young, iconography arrested my imagination; the process of turning ideas to symbols, as well as controlling discourses.” He contemplates for a second then continues, “Have you ever noticed how sad almost all Western medieval paintings are? These paintings were the work of artists who strove to communicate what lied beyond the church’s grasp, but they were confined, and that confinement glowed with sadness.”
Of the role of art, Hussein has a specific, daring opinion: “Art had always been – until the dawn of modern technology – an agent of change. From the earliest agitprop to the latest readymades, historical change had always been supervised by art.” He continues, “However, modern technology has quickened the pace of the world, and art naturally lagged behind. Art is a thought-medium, but the pace of events in today’s world is quicker than thought.” He also laments art criticism by saying, “Critics have transformed interactions with art into an elitist activity.”
Sinan Hussein’s work is an attempt to remind humanity of what it has lost: innocence, purity, authenticity. His ethos includes daring to stare directly at those losses, to discern what our next step as a civilization should be. Currently, he is interested in the realm of dreams. “The most prominent symbol in my paintings is the eye – any eye. It could be a camera’s eye staring at the viewer, capturing the moment. The eye is the instrument of dream.” Later on, he told me, “I like to think of my works as projects. I take a topic that arrests me and I work on it.” His paintings deal with a variety of topics, from technology to religious authority and social upheavals. And if that sounds overwhelming in theory, you should see how Hussein’s work brims with a vitality and energy that transforms these cumbersome subjects into a joyous and wondrous ride.