Syrian Artist Tammam Azzam became an internet hit earlier this year by photoshopping Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss upon a bullet riddled wall in Damascus. Placing something beautiful in the midst of all this devastation appealed to many people and the photograph quickly went viral.
Azzam is represented by Ayyam, a middle eastern art gallery who at the beginning of this year opened a branch in Mayfair. This gallery is now hosting a solo show by Azzam aiming to show his range and to ensure he’s not just seen as a one-hit-wonder.
There are a few works in a similar style, with renowned artists including Da Vinci, Warhol and Goya having their masterpieces superimposed on to Syrian streets filled with rubble. These feel quite repetitive with the one exception being Gauguin’s Tahitian women placed next to a refugee camp — the use of pink filtering creates a brilliant contrast to the mood of the subjects, in a similar vein to the art of Richard Mosse.
There is a wide breadth of work on display in this small exhibition with a Bansky-esque view of the Syrian Olympics, where icons depicting shooting and running competitors are placed in a line. The satire continues with mock-ups of the Saudi Arabian flag in the red, black and green of Syria’s colours with an AK-47 and an M-16 replacing the traditional sword.
The highlight is a work of pure escapism as a bombed out shell of a house is lifted by balloons away from war, and flown over destruction in other cities including London, New York and Paris. Azzam’s work might not be subtle but neither is war and so these themes of destruction and escapism never feel forced.
The major downside of this exhibition is the works are very derivative of existing artists and this lessens their impact. But there is still a lot to like in this diverse and engaging exhibition with a definite street art feel to it.
Tammam Azzam: I, Syrian is on at Ayyam Gallery, 143 New Bond Street (1st floor). W1S 2TP until 30 January. Entrance is free.