Being Abdul Rahman Katanani: A Tale of Transformation and Inspiration by Saleh Barakat

“Abdul Rahman immediately impressed me with his way of thinking, how he was determined to become an artist, and his belief that it was possible.”

My first meeting with Abdul Rahman Katanani was at the recommendation of a friend, Mrs Malak Nimer, who ran an NGO in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon. She told me about an artist who drew caricatures and used recycled materials to create narratives of his life in the camp. Abdul Rahman immediately impressed me with his way of thinking, how he was determined to become an artist, and his belief that it was possible. Although his environment was extremely challenging, and the options available might have seemed limited, he continued to work, to learn, develop and create his own voice, becoming a model for the next generation, a person who managed to achieve the impossible. All of his positivity, energy, vision and determination were evident to me when I met him, and they continue to shine forth from him and his works as his career has progressed.

Girl with Shadow, 2019, Corrugated steel

When we met, I saw that the art materials available to him were of poor quality and so I made some small suggestions, most usefully perhaps that he might work with the materials of the camp more directly. He took this advice and made it his own, leaving paint behind in favour of any and all materials that were available to him, including denim, corrugated iron, barbed wire and plastic bottle tops. While Abdul Rahman’s work has continued to develop in so many ways, what I find so deeply inspiring about it is what remains the same: the way that he transforms his experience, despite his roots in an extremely challenging environment, and the way his materials reflect this experience, and that his interest seems to be in telling stories that give the viewer a sense of joy. For me, what is unique about his work is the lightness of touch that emanates from his works, despite the complexity of the subjects and emotions that they contain.

As part of Abdul Rahman’s 2019 exhibition “Brainstorm”, at my gallery, a replica camp was made to convey the oppressive feeling of its narrow streets, as well as a nine-metre barbed wire wave that we constructed in the gallery. With his art constantly unfolding in new and unexpected ways, I’m delighted to announce that his next show with me, scheduled for 2024, represents a fascinating tangent that will be a wonderful surprise.

“While Abdul Rahman’s work has continued to develop in so many ways, what I find so deeply inspiring about it is what remains the same: the way that he transforms his experience, despite his roots in an extremely challenging environment, and the way his materials reflect this experience, and that his interest seems to be in telling stories that give the viewer a sense of joy.”

The Wave, 2019 300 x 800 cm Barbed wire

Abdul Rahman’s experience as a Palestinian is embedded within his work when he talks about himself or the children of the camps, as well as in the subjects and materials of his artworks. The barbed wire waves that represent the Gaza Sea or the tornado of violence sweeping through the Middle East are clear examples of this, as are his sensitive juxtapositions of materials. Although the complexity and conflict of the Palestinian experience are apparent, Abdul Rahman’s work holds the remarkable ability to retain a rare and delicate sensitivity, to create objects from hard materials that are imbued with positivity and beauty.
As a gallerist I think that Abdul Rahman’s uniqueness lies most powerfully in his use of materials, in particular the way he has developed innovative ways to transform the materials around him, by shaping, weaving and gathering, to develop a uniquely sensitive and intelligent language and voice. If you have the chance to spend time with one of his pieces at different times of the day and night you will see how his particular handling of hard, metallic materials creates an array of shifting colours and reflections that will always surprise. His work has a presence that is completely unique and is continually evolving. Recently, he has been working more towards abstraction, leaving behind the early characters, human and natural forms that populated his works to leave room for the emergence of more spatial compositions.

Brainstorm, 2020 Installation view

Perhaps my most memorable experience with Abdul Rahman, though there have been many, was during the time the documentary on his life, “Le Lanceur de Pierres” (2012) by Christophe Donner, a French film director, was being made. At this time, the French ambassador met Abdul Rahman and saw his work, becoming so inspired and impressed by his story that he wanted to help him to gain French citizenship. This long, seemingly impossible process, ended successfully, and Abdul Rahman now lives between Beirut and France. As you can see, Abdul Rahman’s story has the quality of a fairy tale, and shows, for me, how a person with great willingness, vision and personality, as well as being serious and perseverant, can transform his life and inspire generations, tipping the odds that seemed stacked against him, to move forwards from extremely hard beginnings, to become the superstar that he is today.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER

 

SELECTIONS is a platform for the arts, focusing on the Arab World.

Selections editorial presents a quarterly print magazine and weekly online publication with high quality content on all subjects related to Art and Culture. Full of world-leading artworks, exquisite brand imagery, original creative illustrations and insightful written articles.
Selections Viewing Rooms presents carefully curated online art shows aiming not only to shed light on contemporary art executed by living artists, but also for viewers to buy contemporary fine art, prints & multiples, photography, street art and collectibles.
Discover the previous and current shows here.
Cultural Narratives foundation is an extensive collection that is travelling the world by leading established and emerging talents aiming to reflect the culture of the region in their works.