Raja’a Khalid, GIGI EYES, 2017, ink-jet print, tape, 13 3/4 × 9 7/8".

Raja’a Khalid, GIGI EYES, 2017, ink-jet print, tape, 13 3/4 × 9 7/8".

Raja’a Khalid


Raja’a Khalid, GIGI EYES, 2017, ink-jet print, tape, 13 3/4 × 9 7/8".

Drawing its title from a 1960 Looney Tunes episode featuring Road Runner, Raja’a Khalid’s “Fastest with the Mostest” continued the artist’s witty deconstruction of prevailing tropes of hegemonic masculinity. Specifically, the show mounted a critique of a neo-yuppie lifestyle increasingly taking hold in Dubai, exemplified by the figure of the expat consultant who splits his day between working and working out, performing both acts of what Khalid terms “conspicuous production” with a discipline and fervor traditionally reserved for religious rituals.

The accompanying brochure identified Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner’s nemesis, as a comic proxy for this figure, a solitary body running endlessly through empty desert vistas engaged in a pursuit that is ultimately futile. It also invoked Patrick Bateman, the antihero of Bret Easton Ellis’s notorious 1991 novel American Psycho, a searing indictment of the yuppie mentality. Ellis’s book could be characterized as a sort of capitalist realism: The prose is punctuated with hysterical litanies of brand names consumed and fitness regimens completed. Khalid’s show was similarly peppered with brands and logos, trademarked materials and on-trend colors, fitness accessories and body-enhancement supplements, and celebrity icons and pop-culture references, all recombined into a series of disarming fetishes that invoke but do not represent the lifestyles they critique.

Anchoring the show was a trio of custom car covers (uberBLUE, uberNEON, and uberNEON II; all works 2017) made of a high-performance sportswear fabric in colors current in athleisure fashion: cobalt blue, neon yellow, and neon green. Each is screen-printed with a silver Lexus logo—the ES 350 is the preferred model of Uber’s fleet in Dubai—suggesting that, for the consultant, fitness is simply another perk of a lucrative job, like a chauffeur-driven car. The first two such pieces hung from bike-storage hooks, bunching and falling in a way that suggested drapery studies or, more ominously, shrouds, while also citing the draped canvases of the long-overlooked, now rediscovered painter Sam Gilliam. The third, uberNEON II, was bundled away in a grocery store carrier bag placed on the ground and thus kept intimations of sublimity in check, returning the cover to the status of a commodity. Similarly, PURE CHANGE, four squat black bottles of protein supplement emblazoned with hot rod–style airbrushed flames, extended the idea of performance enhancement through customization from auto to human bodies.

Subtle echoes of the lurid palette of the car covers tied together the otherwise disparate works. In GIGI EYES, a tabloid photograph of model Gigi Hadid—who was famously featured on the inaugural cover of Vogue Arabia—was subtly tweaked to emphasize the color of her on-trend blue tracksuit. With her pale eyes peeking out over a pair of designer sunglasses, she looked almost demonic, as if possessed by the unrelenting desire to consume the latest fashion and fitness fads. SYLOF consisted of five Reversible (Un) Mats by the athletic-apparel brand Lululemon, each rolled up and bound in a neon-green carrier strap, the logo in each case carefully covered up by black paint. The title, with its sinister echo of psyops, is an acronym for “set your life on fire,” a line by the Sufi poet Rumi that has become a common slogan among the jet-set yoga crowd, co-opting an expression of spiritual mysticism for fitness and lifestyle marketing. Such sublimations of religious passions into materialist desires are an example of what Khalid provocatively terms “crypto-secularity.” For TROPHY, Khalid cast a life-size replica of a falcon in neon-yellow resin and perched it atop the cardboard box in which the resin was imported. A prized possession of local elites and an important regional symbol of masculinity and power, the bird figures prominently in local discourses of nation and heritage, but was here rendered uncannily synthetic (and petroleum-based).

The final work was WILL TRAVEL, a neat stack of Wile E. Coyote’s business cards. GENIUS appears below his name, and the phrase HAVE BRAIN/WILL TRAVEL is split between the card’s two bottom corners. Intended as a critique of the expat consultant’s mercenary embrace of transience and itinerancy, these words could just as easily describe the cosmopolitan artist of the twenty-first century. Both products of neoliberalism, the two might be more similar than one would like to admit.

Murtaza Vali