The Mojo Gallery, Dubai, presents Crossings, a series of three exhibitions curated by Mohamed Abou Elnaga. Crossings is focused on a process of discovery, connection and exchange between contemporary artists from Africa and their counterparts in Arabia and Europe.
The first exhibition features two artists: Raouf Rifai, a Lebanese based in Beirut, and Joel Mpah Dooh, a Cameroonian working in Douala. Despite the social and geographical separation, specificity and uniqueness of each artist’s visual expression, there are obvious confluences in the form and character of their work.
Joel Mpah Dooh is one of Africa’s finest artists and has attracted significant critical acclaim. He is preoccupied with art and experimentation in art. The marks and abstract gestures which characterise his work reflect the synthesis of his life as a modern man who exhibits internationally, yet chooses to live in his homeland of Cameroon. His influences are ‘African’ but his themes universal. He explores the fragility of individual human identity and observes how this delicate ‘self’ conflicts, reinvents and evolves as it clashes with society, institutions and relationships.
In Raouf Rifai we sense a deep respect for traditional tribal and contemporary art originating in Africa. This influence is apparent in the boldness, simplicity and use of symbolism. Through his ever present Darwiche, Raouf observes humanity in the context of the Middle East. On one level Darwiche is a folk character who represents the common man – in Arabic Darwiche can refer to a simple and simple-minded person – but on another level Rifai‘s common man also embodies – as the name suggests – the dervish, or Sufi mystic, thus imbuing a spiritual and physical duality to his character.
Both artists express an immediacy and confidence in execution that captures the energy so inherent in their cultures and locations. Raouf, bold and intense, drips and rolls his colors across the canvas, producing marks that are unapologetic and decisive. Mpah Dooh’s technique is more delicate, intricate and lyrical in its use of scratchings and markings – in this exhibition on aluminum surfaces.
The two artists also share the uncommon ability to synchronize conflicting elements seamlessly. Balancing strength and delicacy. Connecting the past and the present. Combining traditional and modern. And ultimately merging a myriad of influences to create images that feel both primitive and sophisticated. Images which are ripe with emotion, rich in meaning and packed with intellectual depth.