Ali Cha’aban sat on one of his Monobloc chairs covered with Persian rugs, 2023
Ali Cha’aban sat on one of his Monobloc chairs covered with Persian rugs, 2023. Image Credit: RR/BBH Studios

With a background steeped in anthropology, Cha’aban’s artistic journey is a multifaceted exploration of identity, nostalgia, and socio-political discourse. In an exclusive interview, Cha’aban shares insights into his creative process, inspirations, and aspirations, shedding light on the thought-provoking messages shown through his artwork.

“Anthropology has greatly served my purposes, aiding me in articulating the themes I aim to express through my work. Employing techniques that evoke emotional resonance or provoke reactions from the audience is where anthropology comes into play for me.”

Cha’aban’s academic foundation in anthropology acts as a guiding beacon, infusing his artistic endeavors with depth and introspection. Through a nuanced understanding of human behavior and societal dynamics, he navigates the complex labyrinth of artistic expression with finesse and precision.

AI montage inspired by Ali’s memories from his childhood in Lebanon.

“Initially driven by a desire to address social and political issues through visual mediums, my focus shifted towards embracing the role of a storyteller. As an artist, I aim to cultivate a platform for dialogue that encourages the exchange of ideas and perspectives, fostering discussions that reach beyond disciplinary and sectoral divides.”

The art transcends not only aesthetic beauty, but also serves as a conduit for meaningful dialogue and introspection. By joining narratives that resonate with universal truths and societal challenges, Cha’aban invites viewers to go on a journey of self-discovery and collective reflection.

“There’s adlib we always say ‘it comes with the territory.’ In YKONE, this simply put, fits so perfectly; I enjoy the ever-changing market that we live in especially on the commercial side, and the challenges I face to link my artistic integrity with KPI and ROI based projects; having at least 20-30 % of cultural and artistic reference in our projects.”

Balancing his role as the Artistic Director of YKONE Riyad with his artistic pursuits. Cha’aban embraces the dynamic interplay between commercial demands and creative integrity. Through strategic collaborations and innovative projects, he endeavours to bridge the gap between art and commerce, infusing cultural richness into every endeavour.

Looking at the contemporary art scene, Cha’aban perceives the current state of the Arab art world and its future clearly, “With the paradigm shift in the Arabic contemporary scene specifically now, I feel like there were key milestones that have solidified our scene in the terms of Art & Culture; the first Diriyah Biennale marks Saudi Arabia as significant player in contemporary art in 2021; the second being the rise of the Arabic rap scene that is heavily being pushed by both Egypt and Palestine/Jordan between 2018-2022; and -finally The Red Sea Film Festival that have given a voice for a younger generation in 2020. We now have a voice for every individual, we no longer feel unheard or unseen, our multifaceted identities are being presented by every upcoming project.”

Image Credit: RR/BBH Studios

Any viewer can see many of the artwork’s inspirations are deeply rooted in being raised in a transnational environment and his experiences in the Gulf. Cha’aban tells The Kurator how he maintains a connection to his Levantine roots while embracing the aesthetic and culture of the Gulf in his work.

“My work can be simplified by ‘Hiraeth,’ which is a Welsh word that means ‘nostalgia,’ a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return or a home which maybe never was. Many refer to my work as dystopian, contrary to idealistic daydreams. To me, art is a form of social-commentary that can highlight an issue or shed light on a subject matter. It’s a form of communication for an artist to address a concern and generate awareness.”

Cha’aban’s art is a poignant reflection of the human condition, capturing the essence of longing, nostalgia, and societal disillusionment. Through his evocative imagery and stimulating symbolism, he confronts the complexities of contemporary existence with resolute candor and sensitivity.

When asked what advice he’d give to aspiring artists and designers he said: “Create and ‘unshatter’ I feel our main purpose is to create; provoke a thought, create a narrative, imbue a discussion. Secondly ‘unshatter’ these shattered identities; as I said art is a form of social awareness, it helps raise an issue with the public in the hope of sparking a reaction.”