While their exhibitions in the past have encompassed two stories and multiple large rooms, the most recent show, “Face to Face”, at the Agial Art Gallery is tiny. The paintings by Fadia Haddad take up just six walls in the small entrance room of the gallery. Having been to other shows this year, it is a striking contrast. The paintings are displayed in neat rows and pairs on the white walls – a traditional way to display the kind of Modernist, self-reflexive work that Haddad does.
Two themes come through in the work. The first is the physical process of her painting, and the second is the “mask”. The former tends to be more intriguing than the latter. Her pieces could be considered as a kind of “action painting” harkening back to the gestural processes of Jackson Pollock. This processional kind of work engages with the material specificities of painting, exposing a genre-specific reflexivity; a very Modernist notion.
Unfortunately, the latter theme – the presence of the mask – falls short of being convincing. While the light pencil sketches tucked away between the swatches of color do take on a geometric, mask-like quality, they do not seem to connect with her method of painting, and appear too literal.
The critical engagement and theory behind the work does not translate well – neither in the way the work is displayed, nor in the way it is described in the curation statement. The mask is supposed to be somewhat of a symbol for the “contradictory forces of denial and avowal”. It takes on a complex double-nature, simultaneously concealing, but also reminding the viewer of ritual entertainment.
This analysis makes sense, and may remind some of Picasso’s work with masks in his Cubist years. Undeniably, there is an element of play in the way Haddad’s pencil hides between the colors, representing both the obscurity and the ritual associated with masks.
However, the way this is presented in the work comes off as disjointed and overly blatant. Disjointed in the sense that it lacks a connection to her style of active gestures, and blatant in that once you know she is attempting to represent masks, some magic is lost. There is not much left for the viewer to question.
Despite these complaints, the work is well organized and cleanly displayed on the gallery’s white walls. The canvases are pale, with wide, vibrant brushstrokes, which suits the space. To be blunt, they are works of aesthetic pleasure that will sell well. The play between the bright colors, the apparent brushwork, and the juxtaposing geometric pencil drawings produce coherent designs.
Haddad’s work should be praised for its engagement with the processes of painting through color and line. What is missing is a link between her style and her research into the mask, as well as a solid framework for her theory. It would be worth it to delve further into her “oeuvre”, which could elucidate some of the reasons for her approach. However, taking the current exhibition as it is, it does not come together well.