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A comment on contemporary urban culture

Raja’a Khalid explores ideas of masculinity, athleticism, adornment, desire, ritual, conspicuous production and crypto-secularity

  • Raja'a Khalid, uberNEON, 2017. Silkscreen on Dri-fit tech fabric custom car cover for Lexus ES350. DimensiImage Credit:
  • Raja'a Khalid, Pure Change, 2017. Custom airbrush artwork on Energy protein powder jars, custom powder coaImage Credit:
  • Raja'a Khalid, Trophy, 2017. ResinImage Credit:
  • Raja'a Khalid, SYLOF, 2017. Acrylic on Lululemon Reversible (Un) MatsImage Credit:
Gulf News

Fastest with the mostest is a phrase that describes a war strategy. It is also the title of an episode of the Roadrunner cartoon series, where Wile E. Coyote goes to great lengths to chase down the roadrunner in the desert. Raja’a Khalid felt this would be an apt title for her latest show, which is about the disciplined and focused way, and religious fervour with which ambitious young professionals in Dubai chase their career and fitness goals, in a perennial quest to be the fastest with the mostest.

The show is inspired by the Dubai based artist’s observations of contemporary urban culture, and continues her exploration of the Gulf region’s current narratives of class, luxury and consumer culture. It examines ideas of masculinity, athleticism, adornment, desire, ritual, conspicuous production and crypto-secularity.

The show marks the conclusion of Khalid’s participation in Tashkeel’s Critical Practice Programme for 2016-17, which gave her the opportunity to do research, experiment with new ideas and develop her practice in collaboration with her chosen mentors, US-based art educators Jaret Vadera and Iftikhar Dadi.

“I have been observing how people in this city work hard to look fit and fashionable, and to move up in their careers. As they rush around by Uber, from their early morning workout sessions to their long days at work, and business travels, powered by various body enhancing supplements, they seem to be caught in an almost comical cycle of repetitive rituals, regimens, and unending aspirations. Watching them reminds me of Wile. E. Coyote, who is always on the move and forever plotting new strategies to chase down the ever-elusive roadrunner,” Khalid says.

Each artwork in the show touches on multiple themes through the carefully chosen materials, colours and imagery. A set of car covers for a Lexus ES 350, custom made from a Dri-fit tech sportswear fabric in trendy colours, refer to Uber’s fleet in Dubai which comprises mostly Lexus ES 350 cars; Dubai’s transient population of ambitious people who are always on the move; the lucrative sportswear fashion industry driven by consumers who religiously follow fashion trends; and the penchant for customised luxury goods in this region.

In another work, titled SYLOF, Khalid has covered several yoga mats from a cult brand, with black ink, almost obscuring the well-known logo. “SYLOF, is an abbreviation of ‘set your life on fire’. This phrase comes from a poem by Sufi poet Rumi, but googling it will usually bring up images of yoga mats. This work talks about the commodification of spirituality, and the blurring of the border between spirituality and consumerism in contemporary society,” she says.

Other works in the show include painted jars of protein powder, photographs of model Gigi Hadid, a recreation of visiting cards proffered by Wile E. Coyote in an episode of the cartoon, and a hand sculpted falcon. The custom painted jars question a multimillion dollar economy driven by the unnecessary and possibly harmful nutritional supplements people consume to enhance their bodies; and Hadid represents an iconic trendsetter and embodiment of our consumer culture and aspirational lifestyles.

The words on the Coyote’s business card, ‘have brain will travel’, symbolise the ‘kinetic elite’, who are constantly on the move in pursuit of their aspirations and ambitions. And the falcon, a recurring motif in Khalid’s work, is a globally recognised signifier of masculinity, athleticism, leadership and sporting heritage.

“I gave this falcon a kitschy neon colour because I wanted to sever it from the long history of gaming in elite society, and highlight the commodification of this imagery in current times. The work is titled Trophy because it speaks about the goals and the trophies we create for ourselves,” Khalid says.

“This show is about the new culture of crypto-secularity — the idea of people religiously following a strict discipline, rituals and routines for physical and financial enhancement; and about conspicuous production —the concept of working hard to justify your status in society that has been popularised by many high-profile CEOs and other rich and successful celebrities,” she adds.

Fastest with the Mostest will run at Tashkeel, Nad al Sheba until October 26.

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