Kelly Dabbah: Cara Said ‘Bacon!'
SCOPE Art Show, Booth C07
By VITTORIA BENZINE, December 2021
Many proclaim polarizing opinions about Miami Art Week’s mesmerizing cacophony, but few refute this fact: it’s a scintillating spectacle to witness. Such is the siren call of Kelly Dabbah’s artwork. She brought her collaged objets d’art to SCOPE Art Fair for her second Miami showing, an exhibition called Cara Said ‘Bacon!’ that builds on the Swiss artist and designer’s powerful, frenetic amalgam of sex appeal and irony.
Since studying at Parsons, Dabbah has centered her art practice around seamless shifts from fine art canvases to fashion and everything in between, all emulsified by collage. Cara Said ‘Bacon!' collects chairs, mirrors, and prints from the artist’s recent work, her latest explorations into the place where consumerism turns back on itself in a deluge of ecstasy at once enthralling and overwhelming.
Constant commerce defines our current society, transcending consumer goods and regarding people as commodities. Femininity’s fraught position in this paradigm plays out visually—highways in Kansas lined with competing billboards for peep shows and evangelical churches argue for different positions of the same absolute value.
Dabbah’s precocious relics “subvert feminine tropes and symbolism to create an emboldened aesthetic,” as the artist’s biography explains, wrestling agency back into femininity’s hands. Her compositions compete with color and contrast for the viewer’s attention, which hyperactively hops from polished fingernails to peacock feathers, spandex-clad asscheeks and ice cream cones ripe for the licking.
Individual images in these collages are culled from disparate sources—magazines of all varieties, original drawings, even photos from her own trigger happy lens. Scores and scores of firsthand source material are the natural byproducts of a lust for life that clamors to document every ephemeral moment. “I try to live life intensely,” Dabbah told me over video chat. This system has led her into the company of fashion designers and musicians alike. “I spend a lot of time in studios,” Dabbah said. She’s recently completed custom clothing commissions for Thundercat and Anderson Paak.
At the same time, Dabbah notices her guy friends perusing Instagram like a catalogue or menu of women. “It hurts,” Dabbah noted. “At the same time, it’s like, maybe accepting what it is. Accepting that it's overwhelming. Accepting that it's just part of our culture.”
A genuine admiration for feminine beauty has driven Dabbah to her subject matter from the start. Growing up with sisters, she shared in the adolescent rites of insecurity, but also striving for beauty. She loves eyes, lips, the soft curve of a waist—and these elements all find a home in her Miami showing, with striking arrangements like My Best Friend, My Worst Enemy. But while the seductive chaos of works like this celebrate idealized femininity’s undeniable allure, Dabbah’s inclination towards inundation doesn’t let our obsession with perfection go unquestioned.
Consumerism has provided women with artillery instead of peace. Instagram filters and cosmetic fillers are popular armors available for navigating the competition. “How can we feel empowered without becoming trapped within judgment, shame, and narcissism while looking ourselves in the mirror?” asks the show’s press release. Its titular artwork, a mirror emblazoned with individual icons of the idealized woman, dares the viewer to find their real reflection in the empty space beyond.
“I think you can love yourself without being narcissistic,” Dabbah posited. “Just do you.”
“Once you realize that, it changes your whole perspective,” she continued. “Live your life, think about you, and in that way, be a little selfish. Because people are selfish, people do their own thing.” Dabbah synthesizes all the discord our noisy society makes over the business of beauty and seals it with a unifying thread, the beauty beneath it all. Her work should hurt to look at a little.
Cara Said ‘Bacon!’ takes its name from an icon of modern fantasy—British supermodel Cara Delevingne, who became a household name by speaking to (and perhaps capitalizing on) collective, concurrent desires for beauty and authenticity. Delevingne echoed Amy Dunne’s cool girl by exploding the stereotype of the starving model, proclaiming bacon her favorite food. She and her socialite sisters have since launched a vegan Prosecco brand. Maybe it’s growth, or maybe Delevingne was just playing to our fantasies with the bacon bit, inflating her value on the meat market. We all do it sometimes, I think.
“I like my art when it’s bold and seen and big,” Dabbah said. She’s beyond cynicism—at this point, she can only laugh at the caricature of it all. As people, we have the capacity to assemble the new tools like filters and fillers into a collage of our own liking—the personal brand. Playing for fun rather than power delineates the difference between narcissism and empowerment. On SCOPE Art Fair’s frenzied walls, Cara Said ‘Bacon!’ played with them both. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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