“An artist’s job is to tell the truth.”
Sham Ibrahim of LA designed and printed a Pop Art portrait of the singer Rihanna based on the police photo of her from after her boyfriend assaulted her late last winter. He got some negative attention for the work and then gave an interview to Hollywire which has been quoted and re-quoted across the Internet, only feeding the negative feelings about Ibrahim and his portrait of Rihanna.
In the interview, Ibrahim says things like:
“I really didn’t create the image.”
“I’m just an artist doing my job.”
“I just saw something so many times that I figured it was significant enough to draw.”
But it’s the following that really gets the crowds howling for blood:
“There’s really no meaning behind my piece. People who view it may feel repulsed or this or that or whatever, but they’re the ones who attach the meaning. As an artist, it’s only my job to draw what I see so if, you know, people want to attach or add a meaning that’s really coming from them and not so much from me. If I were to say that my piece represented anger/wisdom or something, I would be a liar.”
As Ibrahim points out later on in the interview, he makes lots of work of this type, Warholizing everyone from President Bush to “Octo-mom.” This is the first image that’s garnered any real attention, because, though it may come as a shock to Ibrahim, people aren’t happy with the way he seems to trivialize and glamorize domestic violence.
And while the work certainly is in poor taste, I think the real issue—the thing that gets people’s blood boiling—is not actually the print but its maker. After all, the image itself could “reflect what is in our society and in our culture” as Ibrahim says it’s meant to. The problem is that he doesn’t stick with this line of reasoning, much less develop it into a commentary about the sick things that Americans sometimes obsess about and idolize. Instead, Ibrahim is too busy dodging all responsibility for his actions to be able to imbue the piece with real purpose. He forgets that every mirror held up to society has a hand holding it, and that hand had best own its part in the ensuing storm if anything of value is to come of the uproar.
Ibrahim ends the Hollywire interview by letting us know that he intends to make more prints of his Rihanna and donate “half the profits” from sales to a “shelter or, you know, an organization that, you know, deals with domestic violence…a nonprofit organization.” But don’t be fooled! He hasn’t all of a sudden grown a sense of purpose or found a desire to make a difference with his work. No, it’s just that he’s been given “this platform” so “it would be wrong of me to not at least try to do something positive with it.”
And, you know, “all this sort of just happened” to Ibrahim, so it’s a lot to ask him to take responsibility for his actions. Or something.