Each sculpture by Roger Chamieh is utterly unique. The structures he sets up may look like giant cubes of cloth, horns and speakers, boats and cages. Sometimes attached to kinetic mechanisms, at other moments accompanied by sound and video, all these works are grand visual metaphors–for the concepts of mortality, aging, fear, the fragility of life. Every piece is motivated by personal experiences and captures the dynamics and dependence of forces both seen and unseen.
Roger explains: “Working within this context of oppositions I create artwork that challenges one’s conventional ideas of the sculptural object through my use of materials, both constant and ephemeral, and the precarious balance realised in the execution. Furthermore the use of kinetics as well as the elements of sound and more recently video function together to subvert my own personal experiences and my fascination with the fragility of life; often resulting in objects that engage directly with the viewer and convey something bordering on performance.”
The symbolism is carefully constructed. Unrealised dreams are depicted through a conical-tubular contraption that seems capable of both swallowing things deep down and emitting some kind of primal substance onto the surface. The event of the birth of a daughter is communicated through a glittering chandelier in a pinkish-red universe that can be viewed only through a mysterious, anatomically evocative slit in a white inflatable room.
For Roger, materials matter, they speak directly to the narrative of his work. He provides an example: “In my project Insh’Allah’ – that deals with the issues of the Death of a Culture and the End of an Era – I used mostly Styrofoam, a banal material that is discarded in our everyday life, to build a life-size recreation of the back half of a dhow (a traditional fishing boat used in the Persian Gulf). I then cradled it within wooden beams as though it is dry-docked or under construction. Out of the cutaway section of the boat lays the limp body of a gazelle cast in silicone. The position of the gazelle mimics the sleeping dog in Lucien Freud’s painting David and Eli (2003-04). As in Freud’s painting, the animal’s body drapes toward the viewer, entering our space reminding us of our own frailness.
“The gazelle references death of a landscape, a culture and an era of the Persian Gulf. Abu Dhabi when literally translated from Arabic means ‘Father of the Gazelle’ and it is this city and surrounding landscape that has changed so dramatically in my lifetime. Both the Dhow and the gazelle have been supplanted by one of the quickest growing metropolises on the planet, funded from the regions rich deposits of oil. The transformation of the landscape and the effects on its people and their culture is what I am addressing as well as with the birth of my daughter I now understand that each generation will evolve based on their environment.”
Roger Chamieh comes from a most interesting multi-cultural background and has lived a life spanning three continents. He was born in Beirut to a Lebanese father and Scottish mother, raised in Abu Dhabi and educated at York and London, England. After emigrating to the United States, he earned his master’s degree in Sculpture from Syracuse University in New York. He spent many years in Tampa, Florida raising a family and teaching at the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College. He currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He has shown and lectured extensively in the US in venues including Factory-Art Gallery, NYC, NY; Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA; The Arc Gallery, Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa Museum, Gulf Coast Museum of Art and Florida Gulf Coast University in Florida. Below you will find multiple views of his major works.
Images used with permission.
Khaleeji – Car parts, motors, synthetic and natural hair. Roger Chamieh’s personal visual metaphor: Persian Gulf hair dance performed by local women at weddings.