Catching Dreams with Anas Albraehe
There could be something creepy, even perverse, about watching someone sleep. In Fuseli’s 1781 The Nightmare, an incubus, symbolizing one sleeping woman’s nightmares and desires, casts a libidinous gaze over her. She is the willing victim, seductively reclining, perhaps in drug-induced ecstasy, the curves of her body revealing themselves under a flowy nightgown. What Anas Albraehe shows in The Dream Catcher is the former’s antithesis. Instead of sexual desire, there is a brotherly, tender, gaze cast on displaced Syrian men. Instead of the darkness of night, there is a rainbow of bright, fruity hues.
Sleep is, of course, the great equalizer, an essential and vital activity to all, regardless of age, gender, origin, or income. In Albraehe’s paintings, although the subjects remain anonymous, sleeping puts displaced Syrian men, whose humanity is too often denigrated, on equal footing with the rest of mankind. These men are strangers to the great first-world-problem of insomnia, and fall asleep soundly after a long day performing physical tasks on construction sites and other menial jobs. They step out of their waking lives, as, looking forward to rest, they shed their beaten-up shoes and line them up against the side of the bed.
In fact, Albraehe not only paints men asleep: it also looks as if he tries to paint what it feels like for them to sleep. Many cultures, not least of them the Ancient Greeks, have seen in sleep the counterpart/brother of death: Albraehe’s paintings argue otherwise. At night, the arguably grim daytime world of the sleeping men comes alive while the city’s noise is muted. Now they can lead a cheerful, peaceful, and eventful life. The nondescript interiors brighten up, as decorative and floral patterns take over. Lined with serpentine white frames, the blankets assert their presence as agents of comfort, ones that the men hang tight to, or hide under, relishing a few moments of respite. The textural contrasts – between hair, skin, patterned objects and walls – give dimension to the shabby settings.
Although the men’s bodies, save for their heads and or a glimpse of a limb and a torso, are safely tucked under thick blankets, one feels their muscles have relaxed. Sleep, though, does not necessarily mean intimacy: not all of them enjoy the modern luxury of sleeping alone, and make do with sharing a mattress with several others. No one knows what they dream of, whether of a better life or the difficult one they’ve left behind. But the paintings evoke no nightmares of a bleak tomorrow, only a full immersion into an elusive dreamland.
The exhibition is on view at Agial Art Gallery until 6/10/18.
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