Los Angeles local ceramic artist, Sharif Farrag, doesn’t appear to be more than fifteen-years-old. Photos of the young artist often feature his shaggy mop of hair pressed down beneath a baseball cap. His sartorial choices fit right in the mall rats and skate punks of The Valley from whence he came.
The son of immigrants from Syria and Egypt, Farrag is a first-generation American citizen growing up in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. Still based in Los Angeles, Farrag is currently pursuing a Masters in Fine Art at the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design, the same school from which he received his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts.
Farrag’s artistry is clearly influenced by his heritage. Mostly working in ceramics, his pieces recall the earthenware of middle-eastern antiquity. The artist’s elaborately painted pots and pithos display abstract figural elements of mysticism harkening back to prehistory. Yet with the use of bold lines, striking primary colors, and surrealist elements, Farrag brings what might otherwise look like a relic into present day.
Reminiscent of Keith Haring’s work, Farrag combines the classical elements of art with his love of street art. Farrag’s first encounter with art was through the graffiti culture of the San Fernando Valley. Admittedly, Farrag grew up admiring the KOG Billboard on Reseda Blvd.
Though Farrag primarily does sculptural-ceramic work, the artist also dabbles in canvas, mural, and found-object art.
Farrag latest exhibition “Hart Street”, was displayed the New Image Art Gallery in Los Angeles through October 27th.
A piece simply dubbed “PowerAde Holder” (2018), was part of this exhibition. Farrag has created a receptacle composed of sculpted, twisted, tentacles and hands that support an actual bottle of blue Powerade. The ceramic limbs writhe upwards on the beverage, reaching in what appears to be admiration. It is a very Duchamp-esque, tongue-in-cheek play on consumer culture or perhaps on a society that holds professional athletes as our national heroes.
Especially close to Farrag is the theme of alienation. Being a practicing Muslim in post-9/11 suburbia particularly effected Farrag, and this seeps in to all elements of his pieces. His art is a conscious reflection of the importance of Islamic representation in the 21st century.
Exhibiting along side Farrag at the New Image Gallery, is Hiba Schahbaz and her arresting canvas work, “The Garden” which displays and ethereal, caramel-skinned beauty. Her flowing hair intertwines with the organic form that cradles her and the two entities become one. Her coy gaze engages the viewer as she offers a Mona-Lisa smile. Though a nude, the figure has the upper hand in the power dynamic what might otherwise be voyeurism. Schahbaz’s figure controls the narrative.
In conjunction, Schahbaz and Farrag are reclaiming the narrative around exoticism. They are redefining what it means to be Islamic in America.