Working out of Tangier, Anuar Khalifi’s work is a constant exploration of his identity in a state of flux. Raised in Spain, Khalifi’s painterly work is a study of orientalism, colonialism and extremism.
Using common templates of iconography, Khalifi tries to unpack the (often incorrect) representation of Muslims in the East and the West, and not just in the media, he also explores representation by the state and even by religion itself.
In a new exhibition at Dubai’s Third Line Gallery, entitled Forever Is A Current Event, Khalifi looks deeper into the exchange between tradition and the contemporary world, bridging modern-day visual branding with traditional symbology.
How does your Arab identity inform your work?
I was born and raised in Spain so I didn’t have the resources of someone living in the Arab world. I had to do a lot of research in Islamic school, logic and Sufism as well as studying historical facts. I try to apply my research and knowledge from my past experiences and use it in the present. I like to believe that when people look at my work they see the meaning behind it rather than my identity; because while I am a proud Arab and Moroccan, I also identify as a Spanish Muslim, and I like to stand in the middle. I believe in the Arabic saying “Al Ma’ani Kabla Al Mabani”, which translates to “meaning precedes appearances”. I like to believe that this applies to my paintings and my work.
How do you stay in a constant state of inspiration?
My studio is located in Barcelona, and sometimes in Tangier, which affects the inspiration behind my work. Tangier is a highly inspiring place, which affects my paintings and how I paint. Just by observing the world around me, I get inspired. Not to mention my research into different schools of thought, which has also impacted my work and my paintings.
How much time do you spend in Tangier?
My family lives in Tangier but I was born in a little town in Costa Brava in Spain. I go to Morocco once every two months, so I live in between both.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
One of the most important highlights of my career was when one of my pieces was acquired for a private collection at MACAAL (Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden). And obviously my exhibition at Third Line Forever Is A Current Event. Also my collaboration with Yasiin Bey for his project Negus which is also the inspiration behind one of my pieces in the show. It’s a triptych titled The Negus Asked Me “Do you want to be the Sultanor Rumi? And Then Opened A Pomegranate”.
What would you like to see happen for Arab artists in 2020?
I hope that we are able to preserve and protect the identity of Arab artists in the art world and that the recognition of Arab artists in the art world will last and not become something aesthetic like a trend that comes and goes with time.