‘Beyond the Artofficial’ - exploring the rewards and risks of AI

In her current solo exhibition, the artist Magali Katra digs deep into the topical issue of AI and considers how we can embrace this exciting phenomenon without losing our authenticity or creativity. 

Magali Katra

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has rarely been out of the news in recent months, so taking this topical issue as the starting point for an art exhibition makes perfect sense in many ways, especially for a painter like Magali Katra, who is known for creating highly individual, expressive figurative work.

“AI is such an exciting, wonderful phenomenon and brings so many positives to our way of living and working,” she explained. “But at the same time, I think we need to ensure we use it wisely and retain our individual, authentic creativity. It’s important to be mindful in an era when we should definitely be embracing AI that this incredible technology could dampen our individual thinking if we allow it to do so, tempting us to become a little lazy rather than digging deep within ourselves to discover and deliver our genuine ideas!”

These and other intriguing areas of thought, including the pivotal part that the human touch plays in the creative process, from feelings to flaws, are explored in this latest solo exhibition, titled ‘Beyond the Artofficial’, which is currently being held at Artscoops’ premises. The show is taking place as part of Beirut Art Days and runs until Friday July 13th.

AI’s evolution and the way in which the technology’s development is fuelled by the chapters that make up our day-to-day narratives lie at the heart of the series. “One of the key ideas I wanted to focus on is that AI is feeding on what we ourselves are putting out there,” Magali explained. “It starts with the human mind and is rich with content because of us – our ideas, our feelings and our experiences.”

Aware that AI’s development is still at an early stage and continuously evolving, Magali has chosen to incorporate blank spaces into the series of paintings, signalling the technology that is still to come. Significantly, this emptiness remains loaded, brimming with palpable emotion, in a reminder that conveying emotion is something that has long been a hallmark of the artist’s oeuvre. 

For many years, Magali’s signature style has involved creating silhouetted figures devoid of facial features – an approach, she explained, that ensures they are simultaneously anonymous and universal. “It’s important to me that people relate to the figures in my work and giving them an aspect of anonymity helps in this respect,” she said. “The figures could be any of us at any moment in time.”

Social Play, 2024, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 150 cm

Intriguingly, the lack of facial features not only makes Magali’s figures universal, but also seems to enhance the emotive elements in the works, perhaps because audiences feel compelled to look elsewhere to find them.

From the tilt of a head to the body language between her subjects, their postures and even the thickness of the line, nothing is ever random, as Magali explained.

“Every brushstroke is calculated and made to achieve a certain purpose, to enable the body to express something and to enhance the sensitivity of the theme, whether it’s a curve that relays fragility or the size of a group to evoke the bond between a family or a community,” she said.

Her works are created with graceful fluidity, primarily in black and white – a combination she loves, she explained, for its “complexity and simplicity”. Colour, meanwhile, is then used selectively, sometimes manipulated to enhance the painting’s sensitivity or reinforce a message, such as spotlighting a standout subject in a stand against societal stereotypes, the need to stay true to ourselves, or highlighting the importance of mutual respect and tolerance within communities.

Crafted in black ink and acrylics, Magali’s silhouettes, are set against backgrounds that she treats as equally important, applying numerous layers of white paint to give them depth and a rich, velvety texture. 

Significantly, given that her art is so carefully thought through in many ways, she creates her paintings with free-flowing spontaneity once at work, transporting the ideas in her head directly onto the canvas, without any sketching. “I also work on several paintings at the same time - that way I have the flexibility to move from one piece to another, depending on my mood,” she explained.

Fraction of Life - Chapter Red, 2024, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 78 cm

While almost always figurative, Magali’s works vary in composition, ranging from intimate small groups or couples to large crowds that have often come together, seemingly for communal events. These group works chime with her ‘people person’ approach to life, she explained with a smile. “I love being around people, whether that’s family, friends or in a community,” she said. “I truly believe that while we’re individuals, as a society, we have to find a way to live harmoniously with other people. Losing sight of this is what causes communities to become divided and fall apart.”

These thought-provoking themes are among those explored in a recent solo exhibition of her works, titled ‘Sui Generis Society’, held in Washington DC.

Her passion for communities was also clear to see in works she found herself producing directly after the catastrophic explosion at the Beirut Port in August 2020. “I found solace in painting during this terrible time - seeing the Lebanese people suffer seemed to trigger something in me, perhaps I was trying to express what I was feeling, while also expressing hope for the future,” she said. 

In some ways, it was natural for Magali to turn to art to express her feelings, given that it has always been her vehicle for expression.
Born into an artistic family, the daughter of a fashion designer, she enjoyed a childhood immersed in arts and crafts. Magali then studied in Beirut and abroad, obtaining a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Académie Libanaise des Beaux-arts in Beirut, before gaining two consecutive scholarships to continue her studies at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts Arts de Paris and Ecole Supérieure des Arts-Appliqués Duperré, Paris. Back in Lebanon, Magali also studied Arts Management at the Ecole Supérieure des Affaires, Beirut and has taught at the city’s Notre Dame University.

Swiftly garnering popularity among collectors, her work has featured in several shows locally and internationally, while also appearing in books and fashion illustrations. Over the years, Magali has also completed several fascinating side projects which range from participating in the Winwood street art project in Miami and the Send my Friend to School UNESCO initiative in Paris, to exciting collaborations in fashion with pioneering designers. 

Returning to the theme of her current exhibition, Magali admitted that she likes to choose themes that enable her to dig a bit deeper into life and society, making the AI topic ideal on many levels. “It certainly reflects the current era, but it’s not overly heavy either - I like to ensure there’s love, humour and lightness in my shows as well as ideas to think about,” she said with a smile. “In essence, the message is don’t lose sight of your individuality, genuineness or feelings - make good use of technology without sliding into an artificial way of being.”

Dramatic Cool, 2024, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 cm

Beyond the Artofficial’ a solo exhibition by Magali Katra, takes place at
Artscoops Space
Mina Building, 3rd Floor
Mexico Street
As part of Beirut Art Days and afterwards, from July 2nd - July 16th.

Sign in to your account to get exclusive access to new works, receive personalised experiences and place bids.

Forgot your password?