The power of the chicken

Rania Khallaf , Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

Painter Samir Fouad told Rania Khallaf all about his latest exhibition

Samir Fouad

 

Entitled City of Chickens, the latest exhibition by leading artist Samir Fouad, held at the Picasso Art Gallery in Zamalek (14 January-6 February) includes 19 oil paintings of various sizes. All are focused on the chicken, a subject never before broached by Fouad, who has depicted time in Lost Time (2022) and Taste of Time (2021), drawing on the Thousand and One Nights. He has also depicted torture, however, in his Abu Gharib-inspired exhibition Flesh (2010, two months before the January Revolution), which has some affinity with the current collection: both focus on the relation between victims and torturers.  

The new work’s warm reception prompted social media debates as to the meaning of the chicken in these paintings. But, according to Fouad, the chicken as commodity and victim is a kind of critique of capitalism. “After the opening of the exhibition, while I was browsing through my old sketches, I happened upon a sketch of a slaughtered chicken that I made at the age of 19. It seems the anatomy of the chicken, with its plucked feathers, had provoked my imagination.” Though completed just a few days before the war on Gaza began, “it might have been a kind of prophecy,” he says. Slaughtered chickens represent people — women in particular — whose flesh is regarded as dispensable, affordable. “They also raise the paradox that humans around the world eat chicken after breeding and slaughtering them, and then they claim that they are civilised.” The same kind of hypocrisy can be seen in the way world powers deal with civilian lives.

The exhibition started with a sketch of a slaughtered chicken, and took nine months to complete. “It was intended to be a still life collection, like my previous depiction of animal bones. However, later on, political and economic events in the region and the world made me think about the unfair distribution of wealth…” Combining expressionism with abstraction and the occasional surrealist flourish, the paintings also feature screaming women with their tongues jutting out in defiance of materialism and oppression. It took the artist some time to study the features and the anatomy of the face and neck while the tongue is sticking out. “It is not just resistance but also seduction, impatience, hunger…” The paintings have a unique, red-dominated palette, evidencing the fast brushstrokes that characterise Fouad’s technique. They recall Francis Bacon, Egon Velasquez and Eduard Munch’s The Scream.

One large painting depicts a group of nude women and a group of slaughtered chickens, both off-white, seeming to melt into each other. The viewer can hardly see any difference between the human and chicken flesh. One chicken hangs dramatically from the ceiling. The painting is erotic and melancholy at once. In a somewhat smaller painting, two girls look hungrily at slaughtered chickens with the KFC logo in the background. A girl running hysterically away from a cockfight, with her tongue out. A version of Velasquez’s 1650 Pope Innocent X in which the male authority figure stares at four slaughtered chickens. By the end of the exhibition it had occurred to me that, though a bird, the chicken is flightless. So too are humans unable to utilise their metaphorical wings.

 

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