The Vulnerability Series features a selection of recent portraits that reimagine controversial world leaders as disenfranchised or displaced civilians. These fictionalized portraits are rendered with an affecting form of realism that although usually reserved for sympathetic characters also draws from political visual culture, particularly the use of propagandist images like political posters or billboards. In place of showing veneration for his familiar protagonists, however, Omari eliminates all suggestions of strength, charisma, and righteousness. Setting aside the hallmarks of autocratic visuals, he depicts them in moments of despair.
Initially, the artist was driven by his own experiences of displacement, and the anger that consumed him as the situation in his native Syria escalated. Intrigued by ‘the romantic idea of vulnerability and the impact it can generate’ while depicting his subjects, Omari eventually arrived at the ‘paradoxical nature’ of empathy. As he developed the series, his aim shifted from an expression of anger to a more vivid desire to disarm his figures, to picture them outside of their positions of power. ‘I wanted to take away their power not to serve me and my pain but to give those leaders back their humanity and the audience an insight into what the power of vulnerability can achieve,’ the artist writes in an accompanying statement.
In The Mediterranean, for example, Omari paints Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president as a distraught refugee partially submerged in water, surrounded by a ravaging sea and an overcast sky. Bewildered, Assad stares into the distance, through the viewer, as though unable to fathom his circumstances. If the initial reaction to such imagery is one of sympathy, the identity of Omari’s subject complicates this encounter, prompting a number of critical questions. For the artist, a moment of vulnerability reminds us of our universal predicament, despite where our sympathies might lie.