An older man with blond, sandy hair carries a young girl on his back. Strapped around his torso is a rolled mat to sleep on while on his left arm is a black plastic bag presumably carrying a few of his belongs. In another hand he displays a drawing of what seems to be his family – a mother and father with several children. Surprising, this ordinary civilian akin to a refugee seeking a new home is US President Donald Trump. Entitled Donald, the painting was one of several depictions by Adalla Al Omari’s The Vulnerability Series revealing controversial world leaders as displaced civilians.
Featured is a selection of recent portraits rendered in a realistic form that draws inspiration from political visual culture from sources around the world including political billboards and other propaganda. The portraits display Al Omari’s recognisable subjects in the same disenfranchised situation as those currently seeking refuge. Here the artist emphasizes the paradoxical nature of vulnerability and uses his work to represent these leaders in moments of utter desolation. The most striking element of these paintings is to see such familiar faces—ones that are usually associated with power and strength—be stripped down to almost nothing.
Abdalla Al Omari. 'Yarmouk.' 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 143 x 190 cm. Courtesy of Ayyam Gallery
The series also explores the relationship of power between Al Omari and his subjects. Instead of showing veneration for these men, the artist eliminates all references to their charisma and strength – an act that ironically shows disdain for their roles rather than respect. The artist, who launched his career in Damascus shortly after the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, was originally driven by his own experiences of displacement and the anger he experienced as the situation escalated. Al Omar is moved by “the romantic idea of vulnerability and the impact it can generate” while depicting his subjects. In so doing, the artist arrived at a paradoxical experience of empathy. “I wanted to take away their power not to serve me and my pain but to give those leaders back their humanity and the audience an insight into what the power of vulnerability can achieve,” the artist wrote in an accompanying statement.
The Vulnerability Series thus provokes a number of thoughtful questions and reminds the audiences of the predicament that exists all around them.
This exhibition ran until 6 July at Ayyam Gallery at Alserkal Avenue. ayyamgallery.com