Tattooing the image and adorning the body in the dialogue of silence
Dr. Yasser Mongi
Artists Ashraf Reda and Ayman Lotfi chose the term “silence of the body” as a title as well as a description of their joint experience, or rather the visual dialogue in which they exchange signs and symbols. In this dialogue, each of the two artists uses characteristics that belong to the other’s medium and blends them into his own so that photographs embrace ornamental shapes inspired by folkloric art and paintings become a fabric replete with the brightness and sensitivity of light.
A reconciliation, therefore, takes place between media always presumed hostile to each other according to a considerable number of experts in the history of modern art. Such hostility arguably stems from the revolution staged by photography, which was seen to have robed painters of their main skill, the visual representation of reality.
Yet is the silence enveloping those ornamented bodies depicted in the dialogue between Reda and Lotfi real? This might be true in terms of focusing in the photographic medium where the artist shuts his lens at a given moment in time in order to isolate this moment or some of its visual aspects from moving time, hence creating an eternally frozen moment. It might also be true in terms of the categorization of media, based on which genres of art such as painting and photography are determined. These media are spatial not temporal in accordance with the conventional classification of the arts based on visible gaps between intervals of perception.
The issue becomes totally different when looking at the works at hand from a conceptual point of view. This difference appears, to start with, when taking into consideration the previous experiences of the two artists engaged in the dialogue since both summon up their pasts, in which they went through a great deal of experimentation and acquired substantial expertise, while they engage in this dialogue. That is why the dialogue overflows with the clamor of experience and the overlapping of the tones of both artists. It is, therefore, not a silent dialogue as the still postures of the bodies depicted in the works of art might have suggested.
Although the characteristics of both artists are blended through this new visual experience, it is through this blend that the style of each artist is identified. Viewers can still detect the methodology of visual design for which Reda is renowned and which is based on creating a balance between purely aesthetic requirements and applied and functional ones. Similarly, it is possible to distinguish Lotfi’s style, which is based on the delicacy of performance and the elegance of technical combinations in addition to the celebration of color saturation and the coupling of the dramatic impact of chiaroscuro and the symbolism of visual units.
This blend the two artists created draws our attention to a remarkable trait they both share, which is their dependence on the mechanism of combining different visual and intellectual references. This trait is, for example, seen in the way Reda combines the malleability of Arabic script and its ability to adapt to different visual contexts on one hand and the lyrical nature of folkloric art and its elaborate ornaments and bright colors. A similar mechanism is applied by Lotfi in the way he employs the aesthetics of visual compositions and controls the overall design in the structure of each of his works within a signifying context where he swings between the metaphysical and the symbolic.
Reda's works are characterized by the daring use of colors that at times violate the considerations of external harmony in favor of vivacity and lyricism while maintaining the strength of the link between the parts and factors of the design. Meanwhile, Lotfi delves into the essence of colors and takes those colors all the way so that he can depict them at their brightest, hence breaking the barrier between the ornamental and the expressionist.
Therefore, it was possible for the two artists to sign both their names on those works, which meet the conditions of a fruitful dialogue in which the two participants stand on equal footing and where the evocation of the body is not only a theme, but also a subject of meditation and visual harmony. This, in fact, was the focus of many of Lotfi’s previous experiences in which he adorned the bodies of his models with several components taken from nature, borrowed from machinery, or inspired by the characteristics of different materials. Similar evocation of the vivacity of the body are detected in Reda’s work even if not through applied criteria for he took the designs of his paintings to the context of fashion design so that the bodies of his models become live media that are impacted by the characteristics of the clothes and add vivacity to them as far as motion and appearance are concerned.
However, Reda’s and Lotfi’s experience is not similar to that of body art, which is based on creating the work of art on the body itself and the evocation of the body as the essence of the process of artistic presentation which can also be a form of performance art. Their experience is based on the evocation of the image of the body rather than the body itself. Similarly, the Reda-Lotfi experience is different from body painting. It is also different from previous artistic experiences in the same context and which emerged in the Arab world such as that of Naga Mahdawi, which was based on the combination of musical theatre performances and Hurufism and merge between language and the visual medium in what can be categorized as body writing. This is because the experience of Reda and Lotfi focuses on compositional meditations on the image of the body rather than the abilities of this body on the levels of expression and motion. This experience is not preoccupied with investing in the energy of the actual presence of the body in the exhibition space. In fact, it is an experience that underlined the major difference between the model as a subject and the image of the model as a surface on which the process of expression takes place.
This context brings to mind the tattooing tradition through which it is possible to contemplate the way the image or the sign maintains its independent presence on the surface on the body as much as it dissolves into this surface. This is exactly what we see in the artists’ current experience where tattooing signs, depicted in Reda’s designs, keep their independence on the surfaces of Lotfi’s photos as much as they blend into one another. The bodies captured by Lotfi’s lens at given moments of time are tattooed with Reda’s designs so that they bring back to the forefront the issue of how photography can be inspired by visual arts as creative stimuli and as a way to establish the contexts of active visual dialogues.
On the other hand, it is easy to detect the elegance that has always distinguished the works of both artists and which reaches its peak through the adornment of the surface/body to create a unique experience in which the image is tattooed and the body is adorned in that dialogue of silence.