The Mortal Struggle of the Soul 

by Dr. Ashley Crawford

It is not difficult to perceive the notion of ‘struggle’ in Kareem Soliman’s latest series of sculptural works, The Mortal Struggle of the Soul. The works are both claustrophobic yet alluring, vacuum-sealed yet pulsing with energy, suggestive of an over-charged battery with explosive potential. The works are iconic, perhaps ready to be worshipped by its suit-adorned followers. However they also capture a degree of the ironic, celebrating as they do, a symbol of the mundane reality of capitalism’s enforced signature – the shirt and tie.

Having recently retreated from the corporate world to pursue his deeper calling to be an artist, Soliman has carefully packed his recent past in much the same way that a military officer might, carefully folding and storing his ‘uniform.’ But in doing so he has created a Pandora’s Box of conflicting messages. A time capsule that encapsulates both ambition and aspiration versus constraint and frustration.

The result carries elements of both nostalgia and the futuristic. The nostalgia is the hint of the finishes utilised by American automobile manufactures of the 1950s, which under the likes of manufacturer Henry Ford, began to resemble avant-garde sculptures on wheels. One just has to consider the gas-guzzling, aggressively-finned, 1968 Cadillac DeVille, a decided precursor to various versions of the Batmobile ever since and the kind of vehicle that has inspired legions of artists for decades – just consider the works of American artist Matthew Barney.

However it is a torso, presumably male given the tailoring, that Soliman portrays and in this it is nigh-impossible to ignore the resemblance to the finishes utilised by film-maker James Cameron in Terminator 2: Judgment Day for his shape-shifting T-1000 replete with morphing shirt and tie.

Amongst the patina’s selected Soliman has, at least in one case, elected to finish these sculptures in darkly iridescent automotive enamels replete with lashings of micro-glitter. The colour of the base is a specific black allowing the glitter to leap at the viewer in a form of a ‘sales pitch’ to highlight an updated ‘promise’ to replace the promises made at the time such vehicles were painted, as a reference to one of the tools used in the continual drive of enforced capitalism.

While Soliman worked in the corporate environment for nine years and did so to attain financial security, he was not unaware of the bind he had found himself in. In his own act of defiance Soliman went out of his way to avoid adorning the corporate ‘uniform’ – a streak of anarchy and defiance in a shirt-and-tie universe.

Soliman points to department stores providing ‘shirt and tie’ wearers a million colour options and combinations of wearing the same garb, suggesting that combining a red tie with a blue shirt is a supposed sign of radical individualism. One tends to forget that a tie, no matter its colour or material, holds as its distant cousin a simple medieval snot rag, an item for phlegm and nasal discharge which gradually morphed into a fashion statement while also a symbol of entrapment and corporate bondage. Famous French semiologist Roland Barthes, writing in his 1967 tome The Fashion System, summed up the corporate ‘look’ as a kind of machine for maintaining meaning without ever fixing it.''

“The suit is both a symbol of power and professionalism in corporate culture, but also of monotony and complacence,” suggest the editors of the fashion/theory journal Vestoj. “So in deferring from the preserved, pressed and perfect business suit, the opposition of the archetype is revealed, when the suit is imperfect, there is an implication of weakness and of the individual body within.”[1] Thus, in questioning the ‘norm’ Soliman had already placed himself as something of an outlier.

At the end of the day, The Mortal Struggle of the Soul has at its core a powerful sense of self-portraiture. It is Soliman the artist capturing Soliman at his aspirational height – would-be corporate powerhouse, metalised thus invulnerable, grasping for the freedom that theoretically comes with capitalist success – “aspirations that are unattainable,” as he himself notes. The Warholesque notion that the shirt in different finishes could be infinitely reproducible fed into Soliman the Corporate’s more fiendish tendencies. But the result, alluring as it is, appealing to our love of order and security, is also inevitably soul-crushing, a pre-packed, dry-cleaned and sanitised notion of prestige. Thus Soliman enters into the titanic battle for the Soul.

But his protagonists, or at the least his viewers, come prepared. Soliman has crafted a stylish customised briefcase with foam insert for the sculpture for buyers to own. Besides creating something practical to present the sculpture in for buyers, the briefcase clearly plays into the entire corporate concept. An added layer of accouterment to the uniform.

Even though the finish is highly edited it was important the initial imprint of the shirt-and-tie used to make the mold was executed to perfection with the result that every aspect of the fabrics’ texture, stitching, buttons, and contours were captured in order to place the viewer in a state of reality-shift, questioning between impressions of what is real versus that which is fabricated.

Soliman easily acknowledges the subject zone “represents the emptiness of the dream,” replete with “a solid gloss finish to represent the consistency of the working person.” This gloss finish also allows the viewer to witness the obsessively rendered texture of the shirt and tie, a distraction from any potential faults within the person and acting as a form of disguise or mask.

We can see them in every CBD of every Western capital or, in an alternate system, in every Communist regime. Zombies capitulating to the system, following tribal norms to fulfil the aspiration of ‘fitting in’ and ‘following the rules.’ All wearing the same button-down noose to hang from the corporate gallows. It is a version of himself that he has rejected but recreated as artworks as a reminder of the folly of our ways. In The Mortal Struggle of the Soul it is the soul that prevails.

– Ashley Crawford

[1] DRESSING FOR SUCCESS The Business Suit and Corporate Culture: Ron Jude’s Executive Model

by Vestoj Editors