On people, places and perceptions

The Lebanese multi-disciplinary artist Carol Hobeika talks to Artscoops about the intense need she feels to ensure audiences feel as involved in her work when experiencing it as she did when creating it.

Carol at ‘The City and I’ exhibition at the Sursock

Did you know from an early age that you wanted to become a visual artist?

Definitely not - in fact, as a child, I disliked art at school, to the extent that I was often scolded by my teacher! Growing up, I was much more interested in music, spending much of my free time singing and playing the guitar. Then, while browsing the internet, I came across a website that offered to teach users to draw and that changed everything! It included a step where you had to trace a pattern and, while I struggled with this at first, it had an interesting effect which I can only describe as feeling like my brain was somehow ‘tricked’ into thinking that I could draw! In the next part of the process, you’re encouraged to move away from tracing and I was amazed to find that this happened naturally. From there, my confidence and passion grew, which led to several sketches and drawings. That’s when I decided to study graphic design, thinking it was the closest thing to art illustration. At this point, I envisaged a career in advertising, but realised, during my studies, that I was more interested in the illustration aspect than the commercial and branding elements. I decided to focus on using graphic design as a tool for producing art.

Your final BFA project, titled ‘Henri was Found’, became a talking point in 2020 for both the subject matter and its immersive quality. What were you hoping to achieve from the process? 

Early on when building the storyline for ‘Henri was Found’, I knew I wanted it to be in book form with illustrations, but also much more than just that. As I developed the concept, which was the study and dissection of a life marked by anonymity – someone without gender or character – I became totally immersed in the project and, in parallel, I realised it was essential for audiences to have that level of experience as well. I felt that if they just caught a glimpse of the work and walked away, I wouldn’t really have fulfilled my job as an artist. Among the ideas I had was to make the project an interactive installation, video art and book in which the spreads fold and unfold to reveal the whole picture, so that it felt like we were uncovering layer after layer.  I also decided on a small, enclosed space for the setting, so that audiences were fully surrounded by the elements and not necessarily sure where to look first which was part of the idea. From there on, ‘Henri was Found’, became the doorway to everything that I’ve worked on since.

From Henri was Found

You’ve talked about your fascination with expressionism and several high-profile proponents of this style. What is it about their work that intrigues and inspires you?

Early on as a student doing research, I found myself drawn to the work of several figurative artists, including Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele. I was fascinated with their treatment of the human form – the way they were authentic and true to themselves, unafraid to play with distortion rather than hiding behind tradition. Bacon’s ‘Figure with Meat’ and Schiele’s self-portraits are standout examples of this approach. The disturbance and the psychology of creating art in this way really resonated with me, in part because I used to become stressed about trying to make the body look beautiful in my work. Discovering their art and treatment of their subjects really changed my perception of not just art, but my surroundings as a whole. 

How did you choose the work you decided to include in the collective exhibition at Sursock, titled ‘The City and I’ (2023)?

I’m not sure why, but I somehow knew, early on, that I wanted this to be a photography project, even before I’d come up with specific ideas in terms of concept or themes. I really had no idea what I wanted to portray, but after several drafts, I took my camera with me for walks in Antelias and Tripoli, and decided to take photographs of elements that caught my eye. During my walk, I came across some random fragments of mannequins - a mannequin’s foot, another whose face was covered by a strange poster, a third that had a cut through the middle of the torso and a fourth which was lying beside a bathtub. I knew then that I’d found something that really intrigued me. When reflecting on the project, which I titled ‘When I go on my Walks’ and my own personal feelings in relation to it, it occurred to me that my primary connections are with people rather than places. I’ve subconsciously distanced myself from places because of negative experiences I’ve had there, but carried this turmoil and confusion with me to different locations, just the same. As I worked through these feelings, I began to see the parallels with the mannequins – their lifelike form, the fragmentation, the violence and the macabre scene that confronted me – and knew the concept I wanted to develop. To be honest, I was nervous about my contribution, since it was my first exhibition, but I think after this experience I was able to say with confidence that art is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

From When I go on my Walks

You’ve said that your current project, titled ‘Rest in Dirty Showers’, marks something of a change of direction from previous projects. What can you tell us about it?

In many ways, ‘Rest in Dirty Showers’ has been a very different project to work on in terms of methodology, technique, style, visuals and direction. The concept of dissection remains at the heart of the creative process, as it did in ‘Henri’. The whole idea started out when I took a dance and performance class at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA) and the instructor had asked us to come up with ‘unexpected combinations’- combining random words that don’t necessarily make sense on a general level, but somehow do to you. At that time, I was working on a new series of paintings which felt like unexpected combinations- and that’s how I knew I wanted to make a link between the phrase and my new body of work. I also wanted to add another dimension to the work to further interpret this phrase and elaborate on it by discovering what meaning it would hold for someone else. That’s when I decided to collaborate with a friend living in Canada, Gassia Konjian, who is a contemporary dancer. The result is a video in which both our interpretations are merged into one. ‘Rest in Dirty Showers’ is still a work in progress; I’m continuing to produce paintings on the theme and not entirely sure how the project will evolve or metamorphosise, but the cutting and dissecting is certainly a key element, which is generating additional pieces each time. In ‘Henri was Found’, I was dissecting a person, but here I cannot yet put into words what I am dissecting. 

From Rest in Dirty Showers

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

Forgot your password?