Suhair Sibai says that her work focuses on the divisions and displacements of the ‘self’ within society. 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. Each figure, the artist suggests, is a vehicle, a cipher, a conduit for her intent. Her philosophy is grand, some might say, impossible; through her art she attempts to expose ‘universal truths’ which ‘transcend boundaries of place, gender and time’.
Division and displacement are prevalent from the faces of her subjects, which confront the viewer in Sibai’s paintings. The vibrant colours suggest life and euphoria even, but the figures themselves exude otherness, melancholy and an other-worldly atmosphere which hints at suffering, loss, isolation and even abuse. This is unsettling and provocative in equal measure.
In the way that Manet’s Olympia challenged the male gaze in the 19th century, Sibai’s young women are defiant and may well be saying: ‘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 overly-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.
Educated as an artist in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, Suhair finds the level of multiculturalism and diversity to which many of us are exposed to these days has the potential to cause the discord, displacement and division of the Self. “Ideas and ideals are mingled and morphed; metaphors are understood and misunderstood according to context and audience; cultures cross and clash. All the while, the authentic Self – if there is one – is via distortion, alteration and compromise, made and unmade, struggling for accessibility to popular culture”.