The Anonymous Artist Taking On The World's Rich And Famous
Last month, in the Egg – the abandoned cinema in downtown Beirut that witnessed heavy street battles during the civil war in the ’70s ¬– enigmatic digital artist Saint Hoax wowed viewers with MonuMental: a biting and socially transgressive exhibition.
Saint Hoax, a Syrian artist who prefers to revel in anonymity, has spectacularly transformed figures including Trump, Kim Jong Un and Putin into poppy pieces of digital satire while paying homage to female icons such as Lebanese singer Fairouz, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Frida Kahlo on canvas. No celebrity is spared a light ribbing, from Michael Jackson to the Queen of England. The exhibition typified Saint Hoax’s ethereal, artistic range – an aesthetic that baits its viewer to engage with a social media saturated culture.
Much like his own work, there is a tension between public and private in Saint Hoax himself: an artist who balances wild online popularity with a reluctance to reveal his identity. The latter isn’t surprising, given the often controversial or political nature of his remixes. His pseudonym – Saint Hoax – plays on the theme: the coexistence of purity and lies.
But despite the anonymity, Saint Hoax isn’t lacking for bravado. In the lead-up to the exhibition, he had a massive inflatable Donald Trump shaped tank – replete with a barrel gun for a nose – roaming the streets of Beirut for weeks, generating viral pre-buzz. As Lebanon’s literati sipped from gold-plated goblets and snapped selfies with the artworks, the tank arrived on a red carpet for the opening of MonuMental – a perfect scene for a show that parses celebrity voyeurism.
MonuMental is a satirical and deeply political exhibition. What is your process in the selection and juxtaposition of celebrities and world leaders you feature?
MonuMental is a play on words underlining the challenged mindsets of individuals faced with insurmountable fame. The celebrities featured are fallen idols that we love to resurrect – Marilyn, Diana, Jackie. However, my choice of world leaders was focussed on living politicians who are currently at the peak of their reign.
You focus heavily on US pop culture as well as celebrities. Do you come from an advertising background or what professional practice were you trained in another professional practice that aids such smart and savvy work?
My educational background is in visual arts and design. Advertising was a minor part of the program. I was trained to formulate clear and focused ideas without having to over explain myself. That comes in handy when I need to compress multiple ideas into one visual.
Your criticism of the confluence of social media infiltration and celebrity voyeurism is on display in the exhibition and is essential to your work, especially your Instagram account. Can you elaborate on this tension, of how social media affects your though?
I think of the work I share on social media as today’s iteration of the editorial cartoons we used to read in newspapers that critiqued or satirized trending topics.
Digital platforms allow for work to be produced and showcased faster, which feeds my spontaneous side and allows me to tackle relevant topics at a moment of peak interest – unlike my paintings that are meant to be timeless and cater to my contemplative artistic side.
What is your daily news diet like? What are your sources and inspirations, and how do you go about collating your news - from celebrity feuds such as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B’s fallout to political events involving Trump’s daily gaffes?
I get my socio-political updates from news sites that I check every morning. As for celebrity related news, social media is my go-to source.
Do you think you will remain anonymous in the foreseeable future or will you unveil your true identity eventually?
I like being anonymous at a time where almost everyone is famous. I would never want to give that up.
Follow Saint Hoax on Instagram @sainthoax