Interview by Editor, Zeina Abi Assy
Premiering with the series “War Drags You Out” in January 2014, Saint Hoax hit the Internet with a strong storm of “PoPlitical” art — and has been virtually unstoppable since. After “dragging” out King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia on February 23, 2014, Saint Hoax witnessed an uproar from the king’s followers, including death threats, and naturally, press coverage. In his first live interview with The Huffington Post, he was dressed as Madam O’Sane, the more fabulous version of Saddam Hussein, a move that is representative of Saint Hoax’s approach: While the issues he negotiates in his art are pressing and serious, his approach remains playful, giving his criticism more gravity. By intervening on images, political figures, pop icons, and social issues with humorous subversions, His Holiness speaks with force about the problems that dictate our lives today.
When we decided to run with the topic of perception gaps for our inaugural issue, we looked to Saint Hoax as an artist whose work highlights the fundamental gaps that exist in the way we interact with notions of power and social injustices. When we reached out to him, he was gracious in his reply and very much willing to join our conversation. His work screams in places where silence has become problematic and suffocating, and it tames infatuations that have become thundering and overruling. And somewhere in the mix, there is a satisfying dose of fun and humor that makes his work addictive. Being a visual enthusiast myself, I can spend hours scrolling through the crisp colors on his website and Instagram account— captivated, amused, and angered.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Saint Hoax explained his use of Disney characters: “There is something quite powerful about mixing classic children’s illustrations with reality. …Taking those characters out of their Utopian setting and placing them in a contemporary context often creates shocking visuals.” By repurposing the meaning of characters and images that have become iconic, he aims to disrupt the way we perceive and relate to them.
Based in Lebanon, Saint Hoax remains anonymous for political and personal reasons. His anonymity suggests that if we shed the predetermined notions that pin us against each other — names, colors, and religions — then we are given the opportunity to approach each other free of accumulated perceptions. Could we then learn, in such a state, to listen to each other?
In a world so eager to attach categories and subcategories to art, literature, film, music, and people, Saint Hoax begs to differ.
ZAA: There is great merit in the world that we live in to remain anonymous. It gives you the power to speak freely without the labels that forcefully define us. You choose to remain anonymous, appearing in costume at interviews, so I am curious, what is it that you are doing and what role has the act of remaining anonymous given to your work?
SH: Most of the work I do revolves around politics and popular culture, or as I like to call it, “PoPlitical culture.” I’m infatuated with pop culture’s effect on people and people’s effect on it. Sometimes I say things that some people don’t want to hear. That’s when my social mask comes out. By remaining anonymous, I am able to create a platform for myself to freely express my thoughts without any censorship. Saint Hoax started out as an extension of myself. Two years later, I became an extension of Saint Hoax. He’s completely taking over. I LOVE IT!
ZAA: One could say that your work is the equivalent to that of Banksy’s, only, it intervenes on the digital alleyways we travel by reacting to the lives of famous people. What are you telling us about the world that we live in?
SH: Almost two years ago, before I started publishing my work under Saint Hoax, I used to paint my ideas. In fact, my “War Drags You Out” series was initially planned as a series of paintings. But that process took so much time! It’s not that I’m impatient, but I had to find a quicker method. I needed a faster medium to keep up with the pace of popular culture. I felt like I had so much to say, but so little time. It made more sense when I started producing digital work. It’s a very fast world that we live in. If you find a way to keep up with it, it can be really enjoyable.
ZAA: Trash criticism, or critically diagnosing a culture with a hard punch, can shake people’s perceptions while also strengthening others. After studying your Internet presence, I see you have a great following as well as some death threats lined up. What can you say about risk and danger in satirically criticising power, political and otherwise?
SH: Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger, was arrested in 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” The fact that this still happens says so much about the risks of being politically vocal against certain power groups. It’s senseless censorship!
ZAA: Many of your works touch upon uncomfortable humor, but some pieces create a sense of nervousness. Can you speak a little about “Death of Humanity,” and “ISIS Story”?
SH: I was extremely emotional when I was working on the “Death of Humanity” artwork. I had just read the news of Aylan Kurdi’s tragic death and I was filled with rage and sadness. As a Syrian citizen, and as a human, I felt the need to react almost immediately. I wanted to portray Aylan stuck in the middle of a horrid political game, a game that Aylan was bound to lose in.
In the “ISIS Story” piece, I wanted to portray a twisted villain as an ISIS member. I thought it was funny, but Instagram didn’t agree. They took down the picture after a couple of hours; I thought it would be perfect to bring it back through The Seventh Wave.
All artwork above is created by Saint Hoax and can be found at www.sainthoax.com.