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Meriem Bennani's Exploded Visions | Art21 "New York Close Up"

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Can art be funny and serious at the same time?

Using social media-inspired effects, artist Meriem Bennani subverts audience expectations of both pop culture and her own Muslim community with unexpected playfulness and pathos. "I feel like I have a hard time connecting to anything that doesn’t have humor," says the artist, "because for me humor is like survival."

Taking cues from digital platforms, in her multichannel video installation "FLY," Bennani inserts a mischievous Rihanna-singing fly over footage of daily life in her native Morocco. Projected over sculpted surfaces that mimic the compound vision of flies themselves, the effect is startlingly disorienting in its comic mash up of specific cultural details and cartoonish digital tropes.

Often exploring the private lives of Muslim women, Bennani strategically navigates the line between championing and exploiting the women who appear in her films, many of whom are family members, like in her documentary-style project "Ghariba/Stranger". "On one side, I almost feel emotionally like a monster who traps family members into this digital world. And then the other extreme is like fully loving and celebrating family," says the artist.

Bennani’s largest project to date—a thirty-second video loop of women in festive "holiday" hijabs created for the massive outdoor oculus screen at Barclays Center in Brooklyn—is both an unabashed celebration of feminine Muslim culture and a negotiation of her own identity as a secular Moroccan in a polarized political climate. "What this political climate does is that it asks you to think about your identity constantly," says the artist. "And I feel like my reaction to that has been to make work that itself doesn't stick to a genre or one identity."

Meriem Bennani (b. 1988, Rabat, Morocco) lives and works in New York. Learn more about the artist at: https://art21.org/artist/meriem-bennani/

"New York Close Up" Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director: Nesa Azimi & Adam Golfer. Editor: Adam Golfer & Anita Hei-Man Yu. Cinematography: Adam Golfer. Additional Camera: Meriem Bennani. Design & Graphics: Open & Urosh Perisic. Artwork Courtesy: Meriem Bennani. Music Courtesy: ISSAM, Jabo & JEUNECARTIER. Thanks: Art Dubai, ARTE, Orian Barki, Ted Beagles, Bravo Studios, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, Sandrine Milet, Public Art Fund, & Ava Taylor. © Art21, Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

"New York Close Up" is supported, in part, by The Lambent Foundation; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; VIA Art Fund; Lévy Gorvy; and by individual contributors.