By VITTORIA BENZINE October 15, 2020
Friday, October 9th marked the opening of Lara Nasser’s second solo show with Meredith Rosen Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The exhibition, titled Faith Faith Faith Faith Bang Bang “continues to humor and confuse the viewer with cryptic tales from a queer Lebanese woman in America that confront a universal in-betweenness at the heart of contemporary culture,” as stated by a press release from the gallery.
Nasser’s provocative works, rendered in rich oils and saturated hues, seduce viewers with supple anatomy and shiny settings. Nasser’s paintings occupy the white walled space alongside Dada-esque floral arrangements and an equally avant garde video presentation offering multiple alternate universes occurring in real time as channels on a screen. The show, an intellectual approach to pure hedonism, speaks to the political and cultural situation in Nasser’s native Beirut, long after the news cycle has tired of the city’s catastrophic explosion on August 4th.
“Emulsifying the minimal with the tacky,” the press release continues, “the kinky with the conservative, Nasser’s work reeks of an escapist lust for beauty in a place of conflict.” While the remark seems to refer to Beirut, the literal place prevalent throughout this hypnotic, sexed-up entropy, it also applies to the artist herself, who took a moment at the opening to explain her mental processes to me.
We stood in front of her striking self-portrait, Devil’s Apricot, as Nasser remarked, “This painting is my face from my American passport photo really awkwardly superimposed onto this iconic pose of the Pieta, which is Jesus being held by Mary. I was feeling so distraught and helpless, and also guilty about my own guilt. The guilt was developing its own breed of guilt after the explosion in Beirut because I was here, I felt disconnected, I felt like I didn’t belong to this place anymore. It was a type of grief of its own, aside from the grief of losing the city. At the same time, you don't want to be the person in diaspora who makes the problem about being in diaspora. The problem is that there was an explosion. Working through all of these issues in my own head, I realized I needed to make a painting making fun of myself for having this rather arbitrary stack of paper that essentially grants you all the access and opportunity that my peers who don't have the passport cannot obtain.”
She noted that the work feels simultaneously haunting and hilarious “because it's so badly done.” Her face is haphazardly slapped onto the two figures engaged in this religious trope. “The reason I didn't try to match the faces in a realistic way is so that it would be more on the awkward and humorous side, and clearly mocking the joy of being photographed for this document."
Devil’s Apricot encapsulates Nasser’s own identity crisis, exacerbated in the wake of this summer’s events. Her technical talent for photorealism battles with the nonsensical premise and background — a stark space/time grid littered with cascading fruit. Together, they portray the notion of being a devil's advocate in a new way, “playing for the other team, playing for the West instead of playing for back home or vice versa…Neither American nor Lebanese, neither male nor female, neither the mother nor the martyr. It's a self-portrait that is denying all of the self-hoods that are presented in the same frame.”
Nasser’s absurdist approach to processing her multitudinous mixed emotions betrays her very real, very tangible and heartfelt emotions towards the matter of identity and how it materially relates to living conditions for citizens in different countries. This is simply how she copes.
“I find it absurd that I have this reality and this existence here in New York, where I live a particular lifestyle, I behave in a particular way, and then I go back home, and it's this entirely different, culturally mandated switch of existences or of selves,” Nasser explained.
“Some of them are more overtly humorous,” she continued, gesturing towards Palais Valet, “like this image of the white girls getting all the attention in the Lebanese club, where the men are suddenly putting on these different personas and faces to try their luck with them.” A more painterly piece than the work she’d focused on moments prior, Palais Valet depicts a Donatella Versace doppleganger and her crew of party girls reveling in the spotlight, tethered to the canvas’s bounds by a bright background evoking impasto.
“Humor is an interface, ultimately, at the end of the day,” Nasser concluded. As a Lebanese anchor baby born in Sacramento and currently residing in New York, she’s uncomfortable at the prospect of wallowing. Her talents have more active aims. “I feel like talking about tragedy through tragedy is a bit redundant,” she said. “It's not productive and it shuts out those who cannot participate in your tragedy. If you create something about a really dark moment or event or even place, you give people a window to enter it with humor because it makes it more approachable to the audience I have here.” Viewers stepping into Faith Faith Faith Faith Bang Bang while it’s on view through November 14th will find themselves irrevocably immersed in an aesthetic that sticks with them after they’ve departed, imparting itself as a vague sense of arousal and uncertainty. 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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