Human hybrids and other horror
After working in retail for a couple of years, Adel Setta quit his job as a store manager to pursue his ambitions as a photographer. He confronted his mixed heritage with a series made in Egypt and surprised everyone with his latest work, OBSCURA, portraying masked beings. What made him trade the Middle East for an uncannily stylized world?
Your recent works are very different from the documentary series you made back in Egypt. How did that change come about?
The series made in Egypt was deeply personal to me. I’m half Egyptian and decided to travel to my father’s village in the wake of a minor accident. It resulted in my first show as a photographer, which definitely opened doors. The art world was relatively new to me. At that point, I had already befriended some people from Loods des doods, a mixed-media art collective based in Antwerp. We started collaborating, which resulted in my documentation of some of the gory masks they made. The fun thing is; we always inhabit empty warehouses, usually on the brink of destruction, as of now, we’re working from Loods #4.
Your way of working also seems very versatile.
I honestly don’t want to be pinned down as a one-type-of-work kind of artist. Experimenting is vital to my practice. Many things trigger me, and doing something out of my comfort zone is what I actually need. Right now, I’m building movie-like set designs to give my pictures a more cinematic feel. It’s not a static project - but something which is open to evolving in many different directions.
Experimenting is vital to my practice. Many things trigger me, and doing something out of my comfort zone is what I actually need.
Why did you choose to work with human hybrid-like characters?
OBSCURA came forth out of my collaboration with Absa Sissoko, a painter and visual artist. Together, we decided to not shy away from abstraction but still give meaning to every single element. The human figure was essential, but we didn’t want it to have a face to relate to or identify with. Working with images of human hybrids makes it possible to distance yourself from day-to-day life.
These characters are often pretty grim. Where does that come from?
My mother is actually fond of horror movies. She was merciless: we had no choice but to watch gore movies with her whether we wanted to or not [Laughs]. There are lots of clichés about the horror which I’d like to debunk; boring devils, silly skeletons, easy jump-scares… there's much more to the genre. At this point, I’m working on a fully pastel-coloured set design, which should be pretty from afar, but gruesome in its details.
You left your job in retail to pursue your artistic ambitions. How did that happen?
I’ve told all of my friends: leaving retail is the best decision I ever made. I used to work 60 hours per week - I barely had time to arrange my meals. It felt dehumanizing. I started picking up photography again and had some contacts at a magazine, where that were looking for someone to travel through the African continent and document the trip. My contract had ended that month and I thought: ‘Yes, let’s do this.’ Unfortunately, I broke my shoulder and was unable to carry any weight for a while. But then, I decided to take some time to reflect and went to Egypt… which resulted in a documentary series. So I made the right choice. But I’ve been lucky, too.
Artist selected by @pleaseaddcolor