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Hamad and Ali Pop Icons

Stephanie Carrera has a penchant for pop art

Published on June 23rd 2011.

Hamad and Ali Pop Icons

I’M guilty of loving pop art. Those endless replications of Campbell’s Soup and giant block colour Marilyn Monroes that make you go, “Really? Is this art?” The bright colours and recognisable figures always appeal to my aesthetic sense, and this ease of acceptance always makes me question further: “Is this meaningful? Is it good?”

Against the stark white gallery walls, the shocks of saturated color that are Hamad & Ali’s works demand immediate attention.




Kuwaiti duo Hamad & Ali think the answer is yes. And, coming off of their success on their second exhibition, ‘Reminiscing Kuwait II’, and their current exhibition at the Lahd Gallery, ‘Pop Icons’, who am I to argue? The title itself proves the simplicity and instant identifiability of the genre. We all know what a pop icon is, and due to this universal understanding, Hamad & Ali feel the medium of pop art is the easiest way to depict their own culture and emotions. After so many Marilyn’s, Liz’s and Jackie O’s, they’ve appropriated the genre to put some of their own cultural divas on the canvas, hoping to transmit some of the spirit of their history and the times and personalities within which they grew up in and others continue to be immersed in.

Against the stark white gallery walls, the shocks of saturated color that are Hamad & Ali’s works demand immediate attention. The first piece on the wall upon entering the gallery is a colourised photo of a beautiful woman named Asmahaan (an actress and singer who made her name in Egypt, a post-gallery Google search tells me). Against a bright red background, she has her head in her hands in a manner reminiscent of old Hollywood’s women, both playfulness and confidence radiating through her eyes. Her image is outlined with a purple, three-dimensional line of paint, and the shadows of her hands are emphasized with rhinestones. The rhinestones remind me of the textures of colourful Middle Eastern marketplaces, and are the first hint that this aesthetic differs slightly from that of Warhol. The next, and perhaps largest marker of difference present in each of the works of the exhibit, is the Arabic text written across the background of the image. In this painting, it appears in three-dimensional purple paint to match the outline of the figure. 



I can’t help but wonder if the script contains yet another layer of meaning, but the very presence of the text is what really defines it as Middle Eastern pop art. It is elegant, a quality rather out of place in pop art. There exists none of the ironic commentary of the jarring comic book text of a Lichtenstein; rather, it feels as though one has pulled a page out of a beautiful storybook, a sort of modern Arabian Nights. In that way, it is made as much for the Western audience as it is made for Hamad & Ali’s native Kuwait. While for their home audiences their works might provoke a pleasant nostalgia, for us, it promotes a sense of discovery.



Most of the other pieces follow the same pattern, all depicting famous actors and actresses, mostly from Egypt, set against exotic teals, purples, and golds. One particularly delightful variance is the portrait of Samia Jamal, a famous belly dancer and actress, whose costume is adorned with the coins typical of that fashion. Next to her a single red vertical drip runs down the entire length of the canvas, the one seemingly careless stroke of all the pieces, possibly suggesting the movement of the subject and the passion of the dance.

Only relocated from Saudi Arabia to Hampstead in 2010, The Lahd Gallery’s mission is to gain an international audience for mostly Middle Eastern artists, while maintaining an office in Riyadhi to keep up-to-date on new art to import. Hamad & Ali’s ‘Pop Icons’, a subtle blend of the familiar and the familiarly-exotic, is a bright, pleasing representation of the international accessibility which the gallery strives to promote. 

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