Fun w/Fen is a cheeky play on words. While the title of the series by Bahraini artist Mohamad Kanoo directly translates from Arabic to ‘art and art’, it transforms in English to the aforementioned state, Fun ‘with’ Fen.
The tongue in cheek name is indicative of a subtle sense of humor prominent in the work. Far from mere comedy, the critical contrast in subject matter, art history, and iconography are what truly define the work.
Kanoo weaves together imagery from pop culture, politics, and religion into an unmistakably Middle Eastern language of satirical pop art. Referencing Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Lucio Fontana, Katsushika Hokusai, and other artists in his work, Kanoo is a self-taught painter who has since expanded into a wide range of media, including sculpture, printmaking, and collage.
An element of absurdity emerges from the combination of such familiar faces as Liz Taylor, Barack Obama, and John Travolta donning traditional Arab garb. This absurdity makes us viewer rethink our associations. Why are these hybrids challenging, and even funny?
In their sensitivity, earnestness, and execution, Kanoo’s collages humanise both the subject and their unexpected, Middle Eastern dress. Gaps are bridged, and long standing interpretations of cultural capital, and the celebrity as idol, are immediately yet delicately called into question.
His works often employ this one-to-one comparative imagery, but don’t always feature the figure. One example is Stormtrooper Shemagh, a sculpture as beautiful as it is challenging. The Stormtrooper helmet, a universal cultural staple that originated in the West, is patterned with the red checkerboard pattern of a Middle Eastern scarf, drawing into question how we digest and disseminate imagery.
The Shemagh (or Kefiyya) highlights how politically charged something as simple as a pattern can be. When applied to the helmet of a Star Wars character on the dark side, it pushes the limits of appropriating and fusing cultures.
Hokusai’s Wave meets Burj al Arab in Dubai, a Hamza hand tattooed with Hanna meets a universal stop sign. Kanoo’s works are the kind of one-liners that linger uncomfortably long after the joke is over.