You might think this portrait exists to raise awareness about domestic violence...

According to

L.A.-based pop artist Sham Ibrahim's new portrait of [Rihanna] is based on the now infamous police photo showing the singer bruised and bloodied.

But Sham's intent is not to raise awareness about, let's say, domestic violence. Instead, his reasons for creating the [24-inch by 36-inch] Andy Warhol-like piece—which is featured in the World of Wonder Storefront Gallery's new group show, Name That 'Toon, opening tonight in Hollywood—are quite simple…

"I thought the bruises in the police photo were interesting shapes to draw," he says. "And it was cool to color them pink and blue. Those are two of my favorite colors."

 But don't take it personally, Rihanna:

"There is no message to any of my art," he says. "It's meant to look cool hanging on your wall and that's it! I'm not into deep meanings."

What do you think? In choosing this image, does Ibrahim have any responsibility or obligation to Rihanna in particular, or to victims of domestic violence in general? Or does his freedom as an artist trump all of that?

by Deesha Philyaw
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22 Comments Have Been Posted

Don't worry bros just

Don't worry bros just painting some abuse because it looks cool

i'm sorry, but anyone who

i'm sorry, but anyone who says,

""There is no message to any of my art," he says. "It's meant to look cool hanging on your wall and that's it! I'm not into deep meanings."

SHOULD NOT have their work hanging in a gallery. what a jackass.
and i'm sure the person in charge of that show is just looking for some publicity for the gallery. i hate people.

F*cking Urban Outfitter...

Because Hispters don't need depth or moral understanding or a message. They just like cool shit to go along with their ironic clothing. Give me a break.


Um, what does urban outfitters, "hipsters", or overuse of irony have to do with this? your comment (which is precisely about how much you dislike people who perceive to be of a certain mindset or in a certain group based on their clothing choices) makes no contribution to this conversation whatsoever. unless you're trying to say that people who shop at urban outfitters would be in support of this artist, this painting, or what it stands for. in which case, aren't you making a HUGE generalization??


I wouldn't call it a huge generalization when I've been dragged to parties with the lot of them and not many of them have anything meaningful to say. I dislike Hipsters, because they are pariah's of society that leech off pretty much anything. Which is pretty much what this artist is doing, they only amount to doing something that will look cool. I dislike them hugely and make no issue about it, I dislike when they take serious issues and put no impact behind it or refuse to understand the huge impact's it has on the lives of said person(s).

Odd. Usually the problem is

Odd. Usually the problem is artists being annoyingly full of shit about the meaning behind their work. Then there's this guy who admits it's meant to just 'look cool'. Problem is—the guy is so clueless that this image has inherent meaning and that he's only made it worse with his insensitive use of it.

Art for art's sake

Is meaningless art still art? Does that not then become it's meaning? He says he's not into 'deep meanings', but that doesn't mean that his art is without meaning. The piece has alot to say about his reaction to the Rihanna situation. It could also speak to the culture of not only domestic violence but the objectification of celebrities and women in general.

I don't see what's wrong

I don't see what's wrong with this. It's not the most popular art trend nowadays, but art for itself - just to give an aesthetic pleasure - is an acceptable kind of art, and common people many times just see art this way, without searching for a deeper meaning.
Modern art is controversial, it's one of the reasons why it moves us so much, and it's important that a piece of art makes us feel strongly about it, be it a good or bad feeling. So, I don't think he even did a bad choice when he decided to use that picture.
If it was disrespectful... Well, art isn't supposed to respect anything or anyone. It isn't supposed to be limited by anything but the artists imagination and hability.
And, last but not least, if he really didn't think anything and just wanted to do something cool when he did this, then he mustn't be the smartest person around. He probably won't do anything important or special after that, as it was obviously just an accident, it just happened to be something he wanted to draw. So why do you even care? People will forget about this, as they always forget meaningless things.

Art & Respect

As a well-published poet I call bullshit on "art isn't supposed to respect anything or anyone". Art isn't supposed to respect <i>power</i>.

Disrespecting people without power doesn't make you an artist; it makes you an asshole.

You say that as if artists

You say that as if artists have an obligation to not be an asshole. I agree that disrespecting the disenfranchised makes you an asshole I just don't agree that being an asshole discredits you as an artist. To me the artists job is to stir up a reaction.

artists = human

And you say that as if being an artist excuses people from their human obligations. Sure, artists should stir stuff up, but why don't they try being brave and going after those with actual power?

Oh yeah, gallery owners don't dig that very much.


The artist himself said that it wasn't a statement or anything deep and I'm kinda disturbed at individuals trying to redeem this by attaching meaning to it. This is making profit off of somebody else's pain and humiliation, simply because <i>it looks cool</i>.

Think about that for a second.

Dropping the debate on what art is or isn't, no human being deserves that. Period. If he wants someone to beat him up and create awesome bruises that he can photograph and draw, I'm fine with that. An artist is free to exploit their own pain, but I can't see how exploiting another person's pain is okay or even got this far.

You said that so perfectly

I agree with the way you stated that and your opinion of his need to exploit the pain of others for no more than his own selfish gain, it would be different if this was an attempt to bring domestic violence out into the public. I wonder if perhaps he also enjoys this hanging on his wall because he is himself a piss ant who enjoys inflicting such pretty colors.


I strongly agree with your comments. You are spot on. This so-called "art" is no more than exploitation and the appropriation of another person's pain and suffering.

Like you say, artists may exploit their own pain should they be so inclined. I also think that they can respectfully explore the pain of others if they are sensitive to the experience and wishes of their subjects, but not exploit it.

This piece brought up the issue of freedom of speech/expression. While I (and I think I can safely say "We", as well) are all for the freedom of speech/expression, I also think that there are boundaries. There should be no censorship here, but rather this shows how greatly we need to change our culture, which trivializes the experience of victims of domestic abuse, especially when the victims are people of color. The "artist's" attitude toward Rihanna's victimization highlights this issue so perfectly - if he can so easily dismiss the image of someone else's pain and abuse, and carelessly fool around and color on them in order to display them in public for his own profit, then there needs to be a drastic change. ...I don't know how this change will be brought about, and I know that we are already discussing the issue, but there needs to be more awareness.

I risk sounding ignorant, but does anybody know if any feminist organization has taken this news about the "art" piece, or the news of Rihanna's domestic abuse experience to call for a campaign against domestic abuse?

I think that domestic abuse issues should be explained as a part of sex ed. In my community, they covered the issue of date/acquaintance rape, but domestic/partner abuse and how we can protect ourselves and others from it is not explicitly made an issue and explained.


That's just unbelievably douchey. If you want to draw "fun shapes" get a damn stencil or get with the abstract crowd, but don't pin that lame excuse on someone's pain. That's the worst exploitation I've seen in a while.

Meaning is not put into art

Meaning is not put into art by the artist, it's taken by the person experiencing the art. Content is decided by the artist, and they may have a meaning THEY take from it, even one they INTEND for it to have (or none whatsoever). However, each person brings their own point of view, experiences, biases, expectations, and interpretations.

Just because he says there's not supposed to be meaning in his art doesn't mean there ISN'T meaning in his art. When people view it, they will experience something.

Art need not be provocative, though that's the popular type of art in art schools these days. We're asked to explain what we MEAN by everything. Meaning, however, is not always explicit or even intentional. But art can also be *evocative*.

I do not think there is INHERENTLY something wrong with an artist trying to create art without meaning. In fact, it is a goal for some artists, who want the meaning created through it's being experienced.

I think he's trying to be cool and flip -- certainly this kind of statement will get him media attention. Is it okay to say a picture of a battered woman is meaningless? Well, as an artist -- I kind of agree. A picture doesn't MEAN anything by itself, it only means something after we view and process it (and then it means a LOT). However, saying a picture of a beaten woman is "meant to look pretty," is disturbing to me. (Of course, that's what I am bringing to it. Heh. I think bones are beautiful, though, and love to draw animal skulls, and skeletons, so who am I to talk?)

I think you make an excellent point

It doesn't really matter to me what the artist's intention was, it matters to me what my reaction to the piece is and what emotions it invokes for me. I had a strong reaction to this piece and I'm guessing many of you did too. Also, even if he did not intend to make a statement, he made one nonetheless. Everything that we think and do is a result of our culture, our environment and our experiences. The fact that he could look at a picture of a battered woman and just see pretty shapes speaks volumes about him which in turn says a lot about how we as a society view women and celebrities.

So here's a question...

outside of the general question: art yeah or nay--and let's face it it's a pretty half-hearted attempt at best--here's another question I haven't really been hearing people talk about very much.

Who the heck are we to be staring at this picture all over our computer/television screens and commenting? Does it help or hurt women who are both in the celebrity spotlight and in domestic violence situations to have their trauma splashed all over everything?


...I asked myself that question (well, a form of it, anyway) before posting this blog. Obviously, you can see what I decided to do ultimately, but it wasn't without some hesitation and "Am I part of the problem?" soul-searching.

Ultimately, I decided that since the portrait represented (to me) yet another instance of someone basically saying that what happened to Rihanna was not a big deal, and since the picture was already "out there", I would post it and continue the conversation that her assault ignited--a conversation that would hopefully transcend "she deserved it", about an artist's responsibility, if any, to such a victim. Your question is about my (and others') responsibility as well. Point taken.

And yet...I know there's still a Line that I draw. If this was a child, for example, I wouldn't have posted it. If Rihanna had been in any state of undress, I wouldn't have posted it. And so on... But I certainly take no comfort in saying, essentially, "It was 'just' her (brutally beaten) adult face..."

I'm glad you raised the question. It's a very uncomfortable one for me, but I am glad you raised it.

I don't think it's all that

I don't think it's all that bad to talk about something like this because we are letting Rihanna and other battered women know they are not alone in feeling outraged about this piece and the way it demeans women, and that they have our support.
Plus the artist needs to be called out on his careless attitude about capitalizing on someone's suffering and the objectification of women. Someone should probably also enlighten him to the fact that the style used isn't his own and that he's a terrible hack with no originality whatsoever.

I've been through domestic

I've been through domestic violence trauma, which is the only reason I felt compelled to reply in the first place. I will say that I don't enjoy having to talk about this man's "art" on the basis that controversy ensures that the work will be seen or read about, even if the talk on it skews negative. It also ensures that the victim's situation remains under public discourse and comment, so it really doesn't help the situation.

Not Acceptable.

If I were Rihanna, I would be offended. Why would you make doctored photos from media dirt dishing paparazzi into a “work of art”? Art is supposed to be either beautiful, or it is used to express your own hurt or feelings, not to add to someone else’s problems. These photos are not to be taken lightly. “No offence”?! How is she not supposed to take offence to that? If the shapes are interesting to the artist, he should have incorporated them into something else, not her embarrassing photo in a two by two blow up. It is immoral to do something like that. You don’t take someone’s misfortunes and make them into a work of art and make money off of it. The only time you can do that is if you’re selling paintings of the twin towers or army troops as a remembrance or to have it for respect. There is no respect in this painting.

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