From Beirut to Bangkok, a double-fisting of weaponized pop lands tonight

It’s been said that life in plastic is fantastic, but there’s a dark side to our pop culture that will go display tonight at an eye-melting exhibition by visiting artists Eli Rezkallah and Saint Hoax at Adler Subhashok Gallery.

I spoke to both Rezkallah and Saint Hoax just a couple hours after they landed in Bangkok, so it was no surprise they looked exhausted. This wasn’t helped by my being an hour late due to Friday evening traffic, but fortunately they were unfamiliar with this classic Bangkok excuse.

We talked about their obsessions with pop culture, how they repurpose it for their art and their first time exhibiting in Thailand.

Photo courtesy Eli Rezkallah

Eli Rezkallah, 29, was born in civil war-ravaged Lebanon. He worked as a stylist and photography assistant before founding Plastik Magazine, a Beirut-based fashion and photography magazine, in 2009.

His work mostly fixates on the feminine, showing female characters in brash, bold color. So why women and not men?

“Maybe because during my childhood, my mum and her friends were a big a part of me, and I was growing up during a war,” he said. “But they acted and lived normally like nothing was happening, so my works are like a prettier version of reality.”

He started Plastik as a platform and outlet for himself and his peers.

“I know that I had a lot of ideas in my mind and also from the people surrounding me, so why not create Plastik to be a platform for all those people to showcase my vision and their ideas.”

Those ideas will be on display in Bangkok via oversized prints of his photographic work.

‘The Spring Ladies Club’ Image: Plastik Magazine

Rezkallah’s co-exhibitor Saint Hoax is the real enigma. For his provocative work satirizing and ridiculing the world’s powerful, he keeps his real identity secret and often wears a mask for public appearances.

Last year his series “War Drags You Out” rocked the media and conservatives with its depictions of world figures such as Saudi King Abdullah and Vladimir Putin dressed as fabulous drag queens.

It was a big thing that got a lot of attention, and as you can imagine, really pissed some people off, especially some of his subjects and their supporters.

“I got a lot of media attention, both good and bad,” Saint Hoax said. “I mostly got negative reviews, and I got stressed from some of the world leaders because it drove them mad.”

The death threats have been regular ever since.

“I got a massive amount of stress and a lot of messages on social networks saying they are gonna find me and kill me, even until now,” he explained.

Image: Plastik Magazine

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as “Queen Abby.” Image: Saint Hoax

He admits however that the threats worked: He was scared, so now he works only as “Saint Hoax” and keep his identity secret, largely by avoiding personal questions.

“People know I’m Middle Eastern, but I don’t want anyone to go on, ‘Is he a boy, is he a girl?’” he said. “They know I’m a boy, but like then they like going to the details, ‘Is he gay, straight? Where’s he from? Where did he study? Age?’”

Instead he keeps it focused on his art.

Barack Obama takes a turn as “Baricka O’Bisha” Image: Saint Hoax

“The work can speak for itself. Then it’s just fun, it’s just mysterious, and it doesn’t need to be attached to the person and the face behind it, as long as the artist is there,” he said. “It could be anyone who did it, that’s why I decided to keep that going.”

It’s easy to go off the topical rails with these artists, especially when it comes to the pop culture which influences their work.

I couldn’t deny that RuPaul’s Drag Race is like the first thing that came to my mind when talking about drag queens. He admitted to only seeing one of episode of the show, but said he’d be delighted to see one of his creations adopted by a contestant on the show.

Saint Hoax talked about the sources of his pop-culture obsession that he puts into his work.

“I’m obsessed with Walt Disney’s princesses, Britney Spears shaving her head, Lindsay Lohan and all of those things I’ve living through,” he said. “I always want to bring them back into the work and reference them because I really find them interesting.”

It’s about what our obsession with these spectacles, and how they’re refracted through the media to affect us, that ultimately makes it about us.

As an artist he, like Rezkallah, reweaves those influences into acid satire with unavoidably political dimensions.

“I’m excited to combine those two things that to some are different, politics and pop culture, under the term of “POPlitical.”

Thus “Poplitically Incorrect,” the show of Saint Hoax’s work showing at Adler. It will feature selections from “War Drags You Out” among his other work.


“You can’t fit with us” image: Saint Hoax

Sadly the opening day tonight is on a Monday and not a Wednesday, meaning we can’t wear pink, because that would breaking the Mean Girls rule: “On Wednesday we wear pink.” (#meangirlsrules! #popcultureforlife!)

So find something else suitably wonderful for Adler Subhashok will host the opening reception for “Life in Plastik & Poplitically Incorrect” starting at 6:30pm tonight. The exhibition continues until June 12.

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