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2Fik's latest exhibition subverts popular masterpieces with a colourful cast of characters

Multidisciplinary Montreal artist 2Fik’s latest exhibition, 2Fik’s Museum, reads like a soap opera that travels through time, jumping between past and present to ask where and when we stand in history. Popular masterpieces—like IngresGrande Odalisque, Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and Gentile Bellini’s Sultan Mehmet II—are subverted, reanimated and dragged into the present by 2Fik’s photographs. Inhabited by an extensive cast of characters, all played by the artist, each has its own complex identity, history and relationship with present circumstances and each other.

On the surface, 2Fik’s photographs are largely playful and humorous. They’re theatrical, but it also quickly becomes obvious that the characters' personal, political and cultural struggles are woven into the fabric of these works. The artist’s models becomes more than mere objects and the stories and behind-the-scenes social intrigue of a painting start to claim space. If we look deeply enough, you'll be confronted with multiple intersecting issues of personal and social (and yes, political and religious) identity. And, lest we forget, the original paintings that now grace gift store coffee cups and calendars were often seen as scandalous and boundary breaking when they were first exhibited.

Nightlife.ca: Why did you choose to reinterpret these popular paintings?
2Fik: La Grande Intendante or The Great Maiden [based on Grande Odalisque] is the best example of what I want to achieve with this exhibition, I want to crisscross the historical and political context of the original paintings with my photos. In Grande Odalisque, the woman portrayed is from a harem, she’s a sexual slave and exoticized. I liked the idea of taking this and twisting it into a more contemporary situation where Ludmilla Mary, my bearded and veiled lady character, is portrayed instead and she’s transformed into a housework slave. I’m a hardcore believer in equality so I loved the idea of taking this supposedly overly magnificent view of the woman as an object and reinterpreting it. What interests me about the paintings is what they meant before, the context of where they’ve been shown and what making them now means.

The characters in your paintings interact with history but they also break out of the frame to assert their own narratives and histories as they interact with each other. How important is it for the viewer to understand this multiplicity of backstories and meanings?
I think it’s important to have different layers. The pieces talk to each other and there’ll be booklets with photographs of the characters so that people are able to read their biographies while exploring the exhibition. I like the idea of using a medium to pass messages but that if you don’t pick up on them, that’s okay too.

Why do you work with characters and do they represent you?
I had to distinguish me as a person from what I portray image-wise. I don’t consider my work to be self-portraits and the characters make it clear that it’s not me. I like that and it’s why I don’t consider my work narcissistic. Obviously, you have to be a bit narcissistic to be an artist, but what I mean is that some people think I love the way I look, that I am in love with myself and have to include myself in the photos, but this is not me. I am not Kim Kardashian!
2Fik’s Museum runs from January 15 to 21 at l'Espace
4844 boul. St-Laurent | 2fikornot2fik.com