By Karen Dabrowska
The Pop Art Exodus in The P21 Gallery, an independent London-based charitable trust established to promote contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art and culture. was one of the many events in London commemorating the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day, the day following the announcement of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in May 1948.
The contemporary Lebanese artist Mohammad Bassyouni presented a series of colourful, hauntingly beautiful, politically themed 16 x24 inch digital prints on canvas, hanging from the ceiling of the gallery. Each work carries with it a poignant message. Originals refers to four keys. “When you have a treasure you keep the key, no matter what,” explains the artist. “A lot of Palestinians still have the old keys from family houses in Palestine. Just as their ancestors believed they would get back one day, that inherited hope is still there for new generations and so are the keys.”
The exhibition’s curator Alexandra Kollerova explains: “This artistic technique also known as the phenomenon of Pop Art, emerged in the mid-1950s as a response to rapidly growing consumerism. Many artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein experimented with Pop Art, discovering new ways through which they were able to produce graphic or emotionally disturbing works without necessarily distressing their audience. When approaching the subject of the Nakba, Bassyouni decided to utilise the commercial iconic images in his production for the very same reasons. Logos of ‘Coca-Cola’ or ‘Pringles’ are the ultimate drivers of positive feelings. We are familiar with these products and most of us incline to feel automatically much more comfortable when having them around. The story of the Nakba is narrated in a style in which this issue has not yet been explored before,” Kollerova said.
Some of the prints have a single powerful image while others introduce a variety of characters. In Wake Up a lone soldier leans exhausted on a can of red bull. “Do you really want to build your land on the ashes and blood of others? Wake up solider, wake up,” Bassyouni exhorts.
God Save The Queen may resonate with a British audience. But Bassyouni’s queen is a forlorn figure in the centre of the British flag who he describes as every woman. “Every woman is queen of her life, kids, husband, land – but what can the queen do when she knows that everything she’s been living for will soon be take away. God save that –dead – Queen,” Bassyouni says. One hundred copies of a limited edition print of this iconic artwork, signed and dated by the artist, are available during the exhibition.
The most disturbing prints are Game Over and I’ll Stay. In Game Over the savage killing of a human being is portrayed as a video game which can be restarted many times. In I’ll Stay a lone black figure decides to remain in the place of death from which hundreds are fleeing. No Legos Allowed shows the buildings of the ancient city of Jerusalem treated like toys.
The Israeli practice of giving children the chance to hold real weapons is subtly criticised in Give Em Chips Bro when Pringles are positioned on the end of the gun.
The current troubled history of Palestine is explored in What Was That Sound? Bassyouni asks us to look closely at building which is ravaged by war and to think again if we think the Nakba is over.
Mohammad Z. Bassyouni (1989) is a Lebanese contemporary visual artist, currently living and working in Sidon. His work is predominantly of a digital character. The Pop Art Exodus is his first international solo exhibition. He has also participated in a number of art and photography exhibitions in Beirut and Sidon including The Beirut Sign Exhibition in Biel in 2012.
The PoP Art Exodus, P21 Gallery London, 1st – 16th June.