“Together, the paper and ink are the record of events. We stand on pages with stories from the past. Pages we cannot open. A book of stories we cannot read. A document of lessons we cannot learn from,” Muhannad Shono. The artist’s works mainly discuss displacement, immigration and those who live the aftermath of both. Art is usually born out of yearning that leads one to express themselves with tools they have. Shono does the same using his prolific skills, fervent imagination and of course his mixed background. “I am Saudi but my parents are originally Syrian and ethnically, Southern Russian. So I grew up feeling and questioning whether I belong or not. When it came to identity, the way I look and the family not having that kind of heritage. A lot of things I experienced growing up in Saudi were things my parents did not know about and learned through me,” he told Saudi Gazette. Culture clash was a dominating theme that taught him early lessons as a child.
“I used to think the place you feel is home, depends on the people you find. Then you realize you can find interesting people everywhere you go.” So where does he feel at home? “I still feel displaced to be honest. But I feel comfortable in Saudi as compared to anywhere else, even Australia where I was living for a while.”
His work manifests a lot of themes that run through his life and also channels an inner conflict in the process. “A lot of my work talks about displacement and immigration. This series is from the solo show I had at Effat last year called ‘Children of Yam’. This is the story of one of the four sons of Noah. Three of the boys got on the boat to survive the flood. This story is about Yam who refused to follow his father’s doctrine. They say he tried to seek refuge in the mountains and later drowned. He was an example of someone who did not follow the rules. For me, he was interesting as a character because he was someone who refused to follow doctrine blindly and tried to survive the flood. So his children are lost and for me these are the displaced migrants that have been forced out of their homes. The ink that exists in all the works is the force that is out of our control, one that is causing people to be displaced from their homes- be it war, violence, sectarian violence, economic and environmental reasons- all those things that are out of our control. When I worked on these pieces I wanted the ink to be out of my control and then I wanted to react to it. So once these things were stained I would then come in and try to find stories of displacement and migration to try and create landscapes and details,” Shono explained. His gaze turned to a sketchbook and as his mind drifted to a story he once imagined, he flipped through charcoal edged pages of a book with his sketches.
“When I started with this set for example. This is about borders and separation,” he said pointing to a character sitting by himself on an end of a page facing a similar specie on another. “You have two people trying to find each other. As you go through the story you see them meditating and finding each other on different landscapes until they find ladders and bridges. He climbs through a hole and reaches the other side.” He further explained that all the illustrated pieces are stuck together like a ‘cross section through the earth like a book’. “The earth is like a record. There are lessons to be learned from the past or we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.”
Through his art, Shono is able to reconcile the drifting thoughts and reflections in his mind. “Yes, it is do with myself. Feeling I can almost relate. First of all not wanting to follow doctrine blindly. Yet there might be a price to pay. We don’t know what happens after they survive the flood. Flood myth exists in every culture through time and it is not true that only a man and woman survive with a bunch of seeds.”
If you missed his work at Art Dubai, check out his website www.muhannadshono.com and follow him for updates on Instagram @muhannad.shono