Blog / 2009 / Sham Ibrahim: “An Artist’s Job Is to Tell the Truth.”

April 15, 2009

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.”

Sham Ibrahim with his Rihanna print
Sham Ibrahim with his Rihanna print, photo courtesy of Media Outrage

As Ibrahim points out later on in the interview, he makes lots of work of this type, Warholizing everyone from President Bush to Octomom. 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 glamorize domestic violence.

While the work is certainly in poor taste, I think the real issue 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, the artist is too busy dodging all responsibility for his actions to be able to imbue the piece with real purpose.

Ibrahim 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.

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