Suhair Sibai says of her own work that its focus is division and displacement of the ‘self’ within society.
This is a complex perspective, both for an artist and for the work itself as they sits at the juncture of parallel worlds. Politically there is the residue of essentialism, otherness and absence to deal with. However, this occurs alongside the impact of a new global political order and the highly politicised gender debate which questions the very notion of female ‘self’.
Sibai’s work offers up image after image of strong women whose expressions are still somehow veiled by the invisible yet tangible continued misogyny evident across the globe (see Wing) Each figure, the artist, suggests is a vehicle, a cipher, a conduit for her intent.
Her philosophy is grand, some might say, impossible as through her art ‘universal truths’ which ‘transcend boundaries of place, gender and time’ will be uncovered. Does she achieve this? Viewers look through their own narrative arch and are encouraged to do so. Therefore the answer to that question lies in the eyes that see (see Queen).
Division and displacement are prevalent from the faces which confront the viewer in Sibai’s paintings. The colours suggest vibrancy, life, euphoria even, but the figures themselves exude otherness, melancholy and an other-worldly atmosphere which hints at suffering, loss, isolation, abuse even which is unsettling and provocative in equal measure.(see The Forgotten). The viewer is involved in the narrative and each piece appears to cry ‘Look at me!’ but simultaneously, ‘Don’t look!’ (see Damascus Queen #1)
As Manet’s Olympia challenged the male gaze in the 19th century, Sibai’s young women may well be defiant and say, ‘I am here and I am not scared.’ But there is a hint of an underlying menace lurking somewhere beyond the frame which suggests these may be brave words. The clever contrast of uplifting tonal palettes with the intensity of the stare is profound. The viewer is tricked into expecting one thing and being presented with a different vision. ‘No Fear’ is itself enigmatic, disturbing yet rallying at the same time.
Sibai’s work is obviously a talisman for young women who are challenging expectations just as the artist does in her paintings.