Implicitly, the notion of war permeates Karam’s entire body of work, emerging as a central preoccupation only in the 2006 War Series and 2012 Shooting the Cloud paintings. Entrenched in a country and region where war is never far away, Karam developed his work in parallel to this ever-present specter. His first major artistic theme, the Archaic Procession, was a language celebrating diversity in response to conflict rooted in cultural, religious or ethnic difference. From 1994, he developed a series of public art projects, using his Urban Toys as ‘dream bombs’, or sources of energy to infuse and engage cities in an effort to counter the effects of terrorism, violence and morosity. During the Lebanese-Israeli conflict of 2006, obliged to close his office and stop all projects, he produced several hundred war drawings and paintings. It was six years later when he returned to this theme with a more complex, nuanced approach, depicting pathos with glitter and playing on the dichotomy and physical ambiguity between clouds and smoke, which represent for him on one side dreams and the creative mind, and on the other, the oppressive events of war. The vocabulary of the War Series; the bullets, missiles, airplanes and tanks; are objects in the games of their human oppressors and oppressed. The images of war are uncompromising, but the sadness in them is always tinged with absurdity, with sporadic elements, like the chair, lamp, bird or flowers, introducing question marks or elements of hope.
Nadim Karam’s approach to war highlights a core aspect of his work; the light-hearted whimsicality of his shapes belies the extreme tension of the issues at stake, and his use of absurdity reveals their pathos. He combats the determinism of violence and war with an underlying fierce optimism, distancing us from the bleakness of stagnation.