Away from abstract and into pop art cum Andy Warhol by Ica Wahbeh (May 2007)


Jordan Times, May 2007


Away from abstract and into pop art cum Andy Warhol. That would sort of sum it up, but it would be extremely unjust. Because Dodi Tabbaa’s latest works are endearing images created through painstaking labour and patience, research and documentation, experimentation, trial and error, love and, above all, the desire to tell the story behind the images her way.

Her “Stills from fleeting images; icons and legends”, on display at Orient Gallery, are pieces of great sensitivity and expressiveness, a mosaic display of artistic prowess that invites to reflection and stirs memories.

A combo-collage of close ups and tiny images created a medley of colour and movement, reconstitute movie scenes that attract the viewer eager to discover more than the obvious.

The same character in different postures or repeated in myriad other “stills” is overlapped with fine veil, conveying the “behind the screen” idea, which is exactly what Tabbaa did in these works. Not satisfied with watching the movie, she would capture facial expressions, rapidly shooting image after image, coming up with a speaking, singing, gesticulating entertainer that mesmerizes with his/her story.

The juxtaposition of portraits of iconic figures creates a dizzying world of happiness or sadness, of calm or movement, but, mostly, of action and mystery that begs to be deciphered. It creates close ups and film strips, ribbons of abstract-looking groupings of images, entire reels that project the movie the artist’s way, render her interpretation of characters and events, draw attention to scenes otherwise unnoticed or fleetingly passed over. Because that’s what they are: ephemeral images that belong to a whole – maybe remembered, but often forgotten – that capture an epoch, a way of life and a star in action, but that, eventually, become part of a generation’s memory, fading away in time.

Tabbaa, according to a friend, “an avid film fan and a music collector”, says “the idea of capturing an expression, pose or gesture – freezing a frame of film and snapping a moment rarely seen in still photography or magazines – gave birth to this show”.

And so, inimitable Fairouz, the diva symbol of Lebanon and beyond, is soberly caught in singing postures, feelingly giving expression to the words. Rajaa’, a voluptuous smile on her beautiful face and with a scantily clad body, sways to the rhythm of Arabic music. Appropriately, the canvas is “veiled” in black tulle embroidered with black bead patterns.

In stills from Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif are juxtaposed, their images combined with scenes from the film in a thrilling mosaic.

Samia Jamal, contorting her body in seemingly impossible ways, is graceful like a swan in one image and curvaceously planturous in another.

The fine mesh covering most canvases is chosen to complement the images. Simple, adorned with beads, interspersed with dots, stars or hearts, it adds to the narrative behind. Like in the Suad Husny and Mohammad Awad work, where the hearts suggest some love story.

Audry Hepburn, Liz Taylor, Elvis Presley are in the good company of Umm Kulthum, Laila Murad, Faten Hamama, Abdul Halim Hafez and Farid El Atrache.

Although Aishwariya Rai belongs to a different generation, Tabbaa thought her remake of the movie Umraojan, a 1947 “significant film during partition time”, earns her a place in the Partenon of luminaries of times past.

Watching Umm Kulthum’s close ups, separated by the audience by film strip-like images of the orchestra, the concert is brought to life. The reactions elicited by the diva’s singing and the entire arrangement on the canvas make the viewer a participant in the event.

The colours in Tabbaa’s works – sepia, green, turquoise, maroon, red, yellow, other than the black and white of the time – discretely used for special effect, contribute to the feeling of time gone by leaving its imprint on the images. In two smaller frames, Suad Husny and Omar Sharif have red and yellow spots of light on them, literarily singled out as stars in the spotlight.

Close shots of Abdul Halim Hafez, “to get his features”, create a group of stills in which his mouth gradually opens so the viewer sees him sing.

Fresh, novel, lively and stirring, Tabbaa’s works are proof of a free rein on imagination, tenaciousness to achieve a desired goal, a rich sense of the aesthetic and satisfaction in the work done.

“This show is homage to the beauty and style of their era [the 1940s-60s] that displayed such sophistication with simple means. It is also an appreciation for the digital help I got from my simple Sony camera. Being able to create Warhol-like images, available for endless manipulation, has given me the opportunity to freely explore my interests in other media and art forms.”

For a free night at the movies, the works can be viewed until June 7.