Tarek Sebastian Al-shammaa

20 — 22 May 2017 at Gallery Different in London, United Kingdom

Tower of Babel, 2016, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 183 x 184 cm, Courtesy the artist.
Tower of Babel, 2016, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 183 x 184 cm, Courtesy the artist.
12 MAY 2017

Gallery Different is delighted to present Fall of Europe II, the first solo exhibition of London based artist Tarek Sebastian Al-shammaa.

Al-shammaa’s main practice is history painting in which he explores imposing historical and mythological subject matter juxtaposing it with the harsh realities of our contemporary society. Within each of the epic paintings he presents the viewer with poignant psychological insight into his own life and heritage; Al-shammaa is half French and half Iraqi, and so has found himself straddling two oft-opposing cultures throughout his life.

Recurring themes across the young artist’s paintings include consumerism, war, love, lust and political oppression, as well as the opposition and even conflict of Western and Non-Western culture and ideals. In the body of work on view, Al-shammaa depicts everything from iconic myths like that of the Tower of Babel to mythical iconography such as Mother Earth, all within a present-day context.

One example, Mother Earth (2016) depicts the Earth Mother as human. A striking blonde with a highly sexualised body, she stands in the nude pierced by a multitude of knives, as if to show the destruction we as humans are doing to our planet. Surrounding the goddess you will find the symbol of each of the world’s major religions, as well as Al-shammaa’s trademark, half-burning cigarettes.

Al-shammaa’s interest in history and mythology originates from his adolescence, when he would spend hungover Saturdays binging on history documentaries. As mentioned, the artist, who was raised in London, first in Feltham and later Fulham, grew up in both the Iraqi and French cultures, giving his work a real sense of duality.

This is most clearly visible in Pied-Noir (2016). The term ‘Pied-Noir’ of course refers most generally to people of European ancestry who either lived in French North Africa during its period of French rule and/or migrated back to France following Algeria’s independence. The painting in question recalls the first time someone referred to Al- shammaa as a ‘Pied-Noir.’ At the time, the artist did not know what the term meant so he did a bit of research, which led him to discover that one theory of the origin of the phrase actually comes from the stark contrast between French soldiers’ boots and the bare feet of Algerians.

The painting hence delves into this particular theory whilst also exploring the devastation of colonialism. As is evident from the above, Al-shammaa’s practice involves extensive research, whether bookA based or through his own background and past.

Al-shammaa works mainly on a large scale and in quite a bold painterly style recalling the influence of Still, Bosch, Gauguin and Caravaggio. Combining portraiture and symbolism, he creates deeply moving and eye-catching compositions that are rooted in history but injected with a piercing overtone of the contemporary.