Christto and Andrew’s colorful and humorous photographs have set them apart from contemporary photography, having shown in most recently in Milan as part of the Photo Vogue Festival. Operating from Qatar, the artists have been heavily influenced by their surroundings, commenting on every day misconceptions about the middle east, whilst experimenting with the tension between their very different individual ethnicities. With a collaboration with KENZO under their belt, this duo has made strides to elevate the status of photography emerging from the Middle East. I caught up with the artists in the midst of their brainstorming for 2018.
How did it all begin for Christto & Andrew? Where did you meet and how did you start collaborating?
We started getting to know each other and working on random projects while we were both studying in Barcelona, Spain. We later decided to start collaborating officially when we both made plans to return to Qatar where Andrew had lived since a teenager. It’s really when we found ourselves submerged in a totally different environment that we started feeling curious and inspired to create something different and unique.
Christto, you are from Puerto Rico, what influence has Central American art had on your work?
Growing up in Puerto Rico as an artist was based in fine art mostly, drawing and painting practices. In the process l discovered photography as a medium which I found to relate to my needs as an artist. If there is any Caribbean or Central American influences they are not so clear to me. Maybe living in a colonial condition has had an effect but I think the relation is mostly psychological or conceptual. There are a lot of identity issues and the for search for them from an artistic point of view gives us the opportunity to emerge and adapt to other cultures.
In contrast to this, Andrew, hailing from South Africa – how did you both merge together your identities?
We think that having these two differing backgrounds is what created the starting point of the topics that are dealt with in our work. We have had many arguments and dialogues about culture and it was this that created the platform for us to be able to further understand ourselves and the context which we work in. I think that it is a great mixture of backgrounds that create a very unique working style and perspective on things.
Working in Qatar, how does Middle Eastern culture permeate your work?
The Middle East has a very peculiar aesthetic which we were really interested to explore. We use it to explore and communicate especially with our color selection and elements that can be found in our artwork. There is a tendency to use vibrant colors which are often used to showcase power and money. We in turn use this to demonstrate particular situations which contrast each other.
Do you still feel like a tourist in the area?
We cannot say we feel like tourists as we have both been living and been connected to the local culture for so long. However, we certainly still don’t feel apart of the local population as there is a very strict policy against integration. The culture however has changed who we are as people and has equipped us with a distinct understanding that is not really possible from the outside.
Is there a flourishing photographic community where you work?
There are many photographers around however, we struggle to relate to this scene as the work that we do is not that often associated with the regular photographic community. We think of ourselves as artists who express within the means of photography rather than photographers. We feel that the medium is most fit for expressing what we do at the moment.
Color is a great component of your compositions, what attracts you to such bold colours and colour contrasts? Would you ever work in black and white?
We wouldn’t ever be against working in black and white however we think that it would be much harder to express ourselves without color — in our work each color, to some extent, carries within it a symbolic representation. This is very important to us so we don’t think that you will be seeing too much black and white imagery from us. Despite not wanting to limit ourselves to what we are currently doing.
Your colors are quite synthetic – does this reflect the consumerism surrounding places such as Dubai, where you are with a gallery?
It most certainly does. However, I think it should be thought upon with a more in depth approach and extrapolate this idea what is happening to the world at large. It also blends into the theme of simulated reality.
Your work is humorous, and parodies Middle Eastern stereotypes – was this work created based on previous misconceptions of the middle east?
Very much so. Our aim was to try and deliver artwork that is different and provide different perspectives. There are certainly many misconceptions about the Middle East many of which we held ourselves and had to deal with. We’re happy we can shed some light on these every day misconceptions.
Is there a more serious undertone to these fantastical compositions?
There is a much more serious tone to our work. It really is humorous at first however once you take a step back and look at the content more clearly there is often a serious and sad undertone. We like to shed light on the reality of every day life and therefore the more you think and explore the more serious it gets.
What was your thought process behind your collaboration with KENZO for Cactus Magazine?
It was the very first time that we have worked on an editorial project, so it was interesting for us to see how the collaboration would unfold. The images are clearly made with the editorial instructions from Cactus Magazine however I think it was really nice that we could still include ideas within the imagery that you see. At the end of the day we are really happy with the outcome and to see a more dynamic approach to how our work can be seen.
What projects can we expect in the future from Christto and Andrew?
We are currently taking some time to rethink our working process however at the same time we are brainstorming various projects which are still in their infancy for 2018. We feel there is a need to grow and create more work that can be taken seriously in the art world.