Ritual and the Body: Saeed Khalifa’s Digital Photographs

Saeed Khalifa creates work about the body. The Emerati artist’s digitally manipulated photographs pull in elements of surrealism, sci-fi, and horror genres to create darkly visceral, and yet strangely beautiful portraits that explore the subjugation of the modern figure to external, and sometimes painful forces that create “beasts” of humans. His series of work on view at Sabrina Amrani Gallery in Madrid is a group of portraits and tableaus of often faceless figures bathed in red and performing ritualistic, yet unknown, rites while clothed in long cloaks and gas masks, or with the heads of animals that evoke mythical or godlike figures.

Saeed Khalifa was self-taught as an artist—he studied biology and neuroscience—and pulls his educational and work experience as a fashion photographer into his considerations of the status of the human figure in contemporary culture. Many of the figures are cut through with what appear to be steel rods, an allusion to both violence and restraint in complicated works that display the twisted language of the body, dropped into a foreign universe that mirrors ours in the imposition of constraints through political, social and religious forces. The works are made through a painstaking process that begins with portrait photography, which is then extensively manipulated digitally to become part of a rich narrative that draws upon Khalifa’s background in illustration and the carefully considered compositions and implicit storytelling found in commercial photography.

While this series is comprised of digital photos, Khalifa’s work is also expanding into new territory, with sculpture, installation, and video pieces in the works. He has previously exhibited at many galleries in Dubai including the Ara Gallery, Tashkeel, and Ayyam Gallery. His work has been placed in many important Middle Eastern collections and auctioned at Christie’s, and in 2014, he was awarded the Emerging Emirati Artist Award.

—K. Sundberg

Beasts” is on view at Sabrina Amrani, Madrid, Dec. 10, 2014–Jan. 17, 2015.

Follow Sabrina Amrani on Artsy.

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