Viewing Halim Karabibene's work is a fun experience. Densely populated with peculiar little people, his paintings offer much to discover. Nude or dressed only in underwear tout le monde celebrates: “La vie est une fete.” Wine bottles, colourful balloons, topless women in raffia skirts and the lute are recurring accessories.
It is a reminiscent of the oeuvres of Hieronymus Bosch or more recently produced works like those of the British enfants terribles, the Chapman brothers or the Indian- born Raqib Shaw. For them art seems to be a laboratory, a playground or an outlet for weird fantasies.
Karabibene is perhaps a touch less rampant, less debauched, less shocking than his British contemporaries. One’s initial joyful impression is however undermined by the realization that some protagonists have chopped off limbs, screws in their joints and a wind-up-key in their skull. Like broken dummies or sinister Frankenstein creatures they leave a sour aftertaste. Strange creatures, half-human half-animal, variations of the Islamic Al buraq, animals with mysterious personae, like the cats and the donkey mingle with the celebrating crowd.
The artist is obviously well versed in the European art history as one can recognize the stylistic influences of Pablo Picasso (faces in direct and profile view), of George Barque (Cubism), of René Magritte (floating umbrellas) and of Francis Bacon (grotesque body mutations) etc.
Karabibene, whose first name ‘Halim’ means the ‘dream’ in Arabic, reveals that what he shows us, is his “personal universe”. The vocabulary derives either from his unconscious, childhood memories or simply from everyday objects in his immediate surroundings.
Most of the settings are placed either in Karabibene’s hometown Bizerte, the beautiful old harbour town in the North of Tunisia or in the more chic seaside resort La Marsa near the capital, where his atelier is currently located. We see the typical Maghreb architecture, the picturesque bays, often defined by red white striped lighthouses. There are crowded beaches, much bare skin, boats and fish. Only the Sheshia (traditional red cap) and the Islamic crescent on top of three globes, both remnants of the Ottoman Turkish invasion in the sixteenth century, remind one of the actual cultural background of the scene of frolic.
The artist is queried as to whether his paintings mirror the illicit spin-offs of society and if there are hidden socio-political criticisms, a wagging finger, like that we know it from Hieronymus Bosch. He quickly waves this thought off and dismisses this idea in his typical whimsical way with a wave of his hand and a twinkle in his eye.
by Christine Bruckbauer – London
In the representations of stories and myths, I have found my true vocation, my true home. Indeed, I have always felt in a state of exile in that I have never created my own story, my own mythology. So, against the spectacle of a disenchanted, cruel and obscene world, I am putting forward an imaginary scenography of a world that is dreamlike and fantastic but does not break the link with the real or the visible. That is why in my opinion appearance is equivalent to transfiguration. The real is only a starting point, a springboard for opening cracks and pathways to vision and listening, in a general disturbance of the senses.
It is a walk out to the confines of temptation, taking in the terrestrial, the underground and the heavenly; I am the viewer of a spectacle which I put on show, while at the time remaining ob-scene.
My characters are semi-unreal in the flash of an eye and cock a snook at current events. Love, hate, war are all included in the mystifications that can be the subjects of this game of dramatic art which my painting and installations play with. Always being far from the factual and the institutional, my dream uncovers the faces that are hidden from reality.
Voyeuristic and visionary, in a hybrid and enchanted world inhabited by humanoids in a state of inertia or weightlessness, and with the echo of a child's loud laughter!