Anuar Khalifi was born in Lloret de Mar and now lives between Barcelona and Tangier. And it is precisely the differences between the East and the West which has inspired his work, including large-scale pieces, merchandising and I was young and dumb, a book published in 2013 that gathers together several of his illustrations. Anuar’s vivid strokes and intense colors convey emotions and tell stories about his experiences in the two continents. After exhibiting in cities such as Casablanca and Paris, he finally has his first solo exhibition in Barcelona.. The exhibition inaugurates The Mothership, a new and promising multidisciplinary space in Poblenou.
Opening an exhibition at such a sad time following the Paris attacks, the question is inevitable. To what extent are your paintings politically charged?
They are horrible moments, indeed. This exhibition features paintings I finished during 2013 and 2014, except for a couple of pieces. At times I thought about using other arguments, since some of the issues I tackle are now too obvious and I wanted to avoid making a caricature. The system, the media, large corporations, etc., use a subliminal or metaphorical language to oppress, control and dehumanize us. The way I think about it or protest against it is somewhat similar, though in reverse.
The system, the media, large corporations, etc., use a subliminal or metaphorical language to oppress, control and dehumanize us.
The title of the exhibition at The Mothership is play on words with Orient and disoriented. I guess so many comings and goings from Tangier to Barcelona can leave you somewhat dazed…
My work has a lot of backing and forthing. What I’m trying is to des-orientalize the image and de-mystify stereotypes about East. All my paintings do away with the canons of Orientalism with high doses of humor and irony, and also decode information. My work is a mixture of fact and fiction.
Your work has somewhat naive but it also expresses anger…
My job is to aggregate information. I use bright and aggressive colors. The naive style is deeply rooted to my feelings and my childhood, a period in which I used to draw a lot. That’s why I never paint adults. I guess everything I do has something autobiographical.
Desoriente has more about the East or West?
Although in recent years I’ve been coming and going all the time, I finished Desoriente in Tangier. It is halfway between the two cities. I’ve always shied away from the clear signs of identity or from a particular culture. I don’t like stereotypes or colonialisms. Every work of art has something autobiographical, prophetic and mystic.
In your work there are recurring characters, like the cat or the ghost. Tell us a bit more about them.
The cat was the way it was signed in my teens, it’s something that comes from way back. The ghost is newer and represents the global enemy of the East. In my work, it is instrumented, I always place it where it doesn’t fit and is not aggressive; quite on the contrary—it always looks surprised. We could say it is a joke in itself and it always presented in ironic terms.
Although you’ve been in group exhibitions, Desoriente is your first solo exhibition in Barcelona. This is nothing new to you, since you’ve shown your work in galleries in Casablanca and Paris. Where do you think your work is better understood? In the West or the East?
The language I use is dual, so I think it’s well understood on both sides. What it is true is that, although I think it is equally understood, the West buys a kind of piece and the East another.
Do you think it is easy to interpret your work?
Not always, there are so many metaphors sometimes it’s hard to discover them. I myself find traps. They are often things that I discover when I see my painting somewhere else other than where I painted it. All my paintings are the sum of the codes I absorb and the result is surprising even to me.
All my paintings are the sum of the codes I absorb and the result is surprising even to me.
It could be said your work is divided between large paintings and illustrations. Do you understand both equally?
No, illustrations are simple and quick sketches, born of absurd ideas that go through my head. There’s normally a lot of black humor and they are absurd and ironic at the same time. My paintings are more complex, they are made to be decoded. The message of my large-scale works is deeper and more global.
Many people say define your work as pop, but I think there is too high a dose of anger to be called pop.
It is closer to neo-expressionism. Pop Art elevates the product and I do the opposite. The icons and the colors may give that impression, but that’s not the point.
However, you give value to the object. In your installations and exhibitions there are always physical objects and merchandising…
What’s curious about it is that the objects you usually see are Western, things I’ve found on the street, from home mostly. I like the duality of objects, how you can them in different ways and give them a second life. However, for me it is not a work of conceptual art but something much more direct.
You’re also DJ. Does music influence your work?
They’re different languages. When you Dj you share the work of other people, whereas in an exhibition I share my own work… What is certain is that in my work there’re a lot of remixes and samplers, as well as direct references to music. In one of my paintings, for example, there is a painting of Gil Scott-Heron.
Make a selection of songs that have somehow marked your life and your work…
Your favourite hotspots are…
La Cuina d’en Garriga and Bar Gelida (C/Diputació, 133).
Expressions like: “It’s not that you’re cool… You’re on the next level”. I’m a hater, I hate many things.
You never thought you’d end up…
I don’t put myself limits. Everything I want to do, I end up doing it…
Being awake, seeing and understanding what happens around you.