The Syrian artist Sabhan Adam breaks with all the traditional conventions of beauty. There is something strangely compelling about his distorted and misshapen creatures, a compulsion that removes the limitations of our own judgments of beauty in others and in ourselves. Are we right to admire physical perfection? Does this exterior and transient perfection reflect the lasting spiritual? What are these conventions anyway, and is it true beauty that we see or merely the influence of our cultural milieu?
Traditionally, Middle Eastern portraiture has been concerned with the aggrandizement or idealization of the subject, and has been liberally used as a tool for propaganda by the imperial regime. Here Adam radically inverts the convention, choosing to depict the ugly and diminished. By draping his creatures in scarlet robes, or gold and sequins – as he so often does – hiding the misshapen form behind grand accoutrements, the artist comments on man’s superficial nature, the true self is so often concealed behind a misleading façade.
Whether these beasts appear malformed or transformed to the viewer, by forcing us to question our preconceptions of beauty and our temporary body with all the entails, Adam obliges us to question our own spiritual, individual and cultural identity.