In the Presence of the Animal : Adel El Siwi

1 March - 1 April 2018

Presented in Tabari Artspace's Dubai gallery, In the Presence of the Animal is a body of work by Egyptian artist Adel El Siwi that reflects the result of six years dedicated to an intense reflection on the nature of the animal and its ambivalent relationship with the human being.


Dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, silent and hieratic creatures ranging from secret-keepers to protecting deities to unlikely survivors of ancient iconographies: the theme of the animal is foreshadowed in several of El Siwi’s works as early as in the 1980s, with individual elements appearing here and there, accompanying the man along his existential journey, or in his fulfilment of his usual functions. The artist’s interest in the subject later turns into a systematic project that leads him to produce a long series of studies (drawings on paper) of animal typologies. From the beginning, these studies have no naturalistic aspiration and no interest in being scientifically accurate. Rather, the focus is on colours, movements, eyes and physical attitudes, with the objective of seizing the “personality” that lies behind each subject’s external appearance. 


Moving rapidly away from these studies, which were based on a pure observation of the animal, El Siwi achieves a universe in which every subject, whether human or animal, participates fully-fledged, not liable to a hierarchical classification, but as a protagonist. The animal thus enters the scene not as a symbol or allegory, but rather as an apparition: shiny, unfathomable, unforeseeable, its presence cannot be tied down to a specific meaning. A temptation towards metamorphosis is always present and generates eternal doubt about the nature of the figures: humanised animals from “Jealousy Eats the Soul” or “Flying Lesson” are juxtaposed with the mutant human beings from the series “Days of a Capricorn” and with the portrait “Elephant man”, or trapped in a spell as in “Bewitched Prince”. Most often, however, it is the relationship between human and animal itself that remains shrouded in mystery and open to interpretation, like in a dream, as in “The Chase” or in “Mechanical Giraffe”. El Siwi sets up a fine network of cultured citations drawn from literature, cinema and art history. These are at times direct, as in the case of “Homages” to famous painters, and at times rich in visual references to other famous and less famous pieces of art, whereby he appropriates the animals of other artists, reviving them and reinventing them. Adel El Siwi combines an impressive and highly personal painting technique with an unshakable faith in the ability of this form of art to continuously give birth to new worlds. He thereby reaches a miraculous balance, offering us a work that is both strongly sensual and conceptually lucid: almost a manifesto of contemporary painting.