Dark side of humour and art

This blog will be an ongoing project which I will continue to add to. It will be a collection of artists from around the world who tackle a variety of topics through a humorous lens. Mainly humour that has a rather dark, sadistic twist to it due to how it relates back to my own art project which I will be documenting as it evolves.

The dictionary description of the word humour is described as an  “instance of being or attempting to be comical or amusing” (2019) which might diffuse a situation. Philosopher, Noel Carrol described humour as being a pervasive feature of life (2005, p.344) of which we either create ourselves, or seek out. Carrol suggests that many jokes are at the “expense of characters who are particularly stupid, vain, greedy, cruel, ruthless, dirty, lubricious, and defiant “(2005, p. 345) in nature. It is an action of superiority that is quite abusive. In the contemporary art world, it can also be used to either mock both the subject, or the viewer in a way that challenges our own personal beliefs. But to also make an otherwise uncomfortable situation or experience more bearable. 

Abdul Abdulah

Abdul’s 2015 photographic “wedding” is a series of skilfully constructed scenes that have sinister undertones. When you first look at each photo it is hard not to take in the extravagance of the room. Curtains drape the back wall in soft folds, flower adorn tables and chairs. Plush cushions, delicate candle bearers, and lamps surround a couple that sit atop “thrones” in attire that screams of wealth, status, beauty. The room is meticulously symmetrical no detail has not been polished perfectly. It is only when you go to look at the faces of the couple that you notice something is wrong. Their faces have been covered in balaclavas with only their mouth and eyes showing. Their personalities wiped away by this mask and with it the room dulls, taking on an ominous, almost threatening atmosphere. It is also then that you note that the lighting is dark. Despite the numerous candles that surround them, none are lit, and the only light comes from somewhere in the distance highlighting the couple whose posture is stiff as if the decadence of the room is making them uncomfortable.

Taking his inspiration from the “1806 novel by Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya or The Moor, which alludes to historic xenophobia” (The Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art) Abdullah’s photographs explore his memories growing in a world post 9/11 as a Muslim. Where his identity was assumed by those who suddenly feared his beliefs and ideologies as being aligned with the same extremists who committed the atrocities on that day. Having to defend his lineage as being that of someone being the seventh generation born in Australia and not a migrant. Each photograph often using himself as one of the subjects his “muscular body, adorned with various costumes and props to camp on Western culture’s historical fetishization and fear of Islamic subjects” (Nicholls 2016, p. 76) a clear nod to his dark sense of humour. This series has similar undertones which mimics the same concepts that I have for my own piece. I wish to utilise my own obscure sense of humour which is just as dark, if not darker than that of Abdullah’s. The use of “innocent” looking dolls that at first look do not seem out of the ordinary, but when you look at them more and read their history you get a sense that not all is as it seems.

Julia Robinson

Julia Robinson

Julia Robinson, One to rot and one to grow. Installation view, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia. https://www.eyelinepublishing.com/eyeline-85/review/julia-robinson

Julia’s statues stand spaced out in a large room with white walls and a grey floor, nothing remarkable. The lighting sends dark shadows off in multiple directions making the room seem even larger, industrial even. You then look at each statue and the scale of the room, lighting and colouring seems very deliberate. It has added to the humour, yet also dark macabre feelings that exudes from each work. Severed body parts of hoofed beasts stand together, or alone attached to yellow lampshades and curtain like structures. The grey of the animal’s body blends with the flooring making the vibrant yellows stand out even more.


Julia Robinson, Folk death, 2014-15. Flywire, fibreglass, fabric (white velvet, linen, muslin), ink, thread, timber, gesso, cotton cord, approx 170 x 280 x 110cm. https://www.eyelinepublishing.com/eyeline-85/review/julia-robinson

Robinson admits she felt like “some sort of butcher, slicing off bits deemed irrelevant or redundant” (Robinson, sighted Crawford 2016, p. 88) when constructing these pieces. Another work sits in a similarly bare room, though this time the flooring is light and wooden. The sensations are different in that it is almost “homely”. Another beast stands tall on stilts that it has been impaled with. Its body shackled to a wooden contraption and the face draped in black cloth. Each piece an amalgamation of furniture and beast yet completely unusable. Robinson talks about how her work incorporates the very feminine art of embroidery with her love of the macabre. Much like the other artists I shall look at, she too has a very dark sense of humour and her work always reflects something that is both beautiful, yet also sinister and uncomfortable. The “goats” a link to the symbolism used when relating to Satanism. Robinson’s work uses objects and subject matter that is normally seen as innocent and makes it menacing, much like I hope to take the innocents of a doll and corrupt that image and make it evil.

Fiona Hall

Fiona takes the trash of others and turns them into treasures. At first you see the intricate details of a tree, a cactus or a bush. The spines, leaves and even the bark have been masterfully carved into the tin of the lids of sardine cans. Then you look to the “roots” of these plants only to notice that they have gone from organic botanical images, to hands that grope at breasts,a phallus and a vulva. This humorous combination of something that is unnatural, the sardine tin, has been reworked and transformed to depict life and the act of creation, sex. Halls takes the most mundane objects that have been discarded “with the end result; things of rapture and beauty” (Crawford, 2016 p.95) creating pieces that explore world finance, politics, and even the environment with a bit of tongue in cheek. Each issue hard hitting, ever present and current to the time in which the artworks have been created. The incorporation of life to something that is unnatural, and manmade lends itself well to her message. The impact of humans on the earth, we are the ones that have the power to give back life to our world, yet we are choosing to take it away more and more. Much like halls work, I hope to take something that is innocent, childlike an everyday object for many and change its meaning to that of something more sinister and corrupted. Yet I, like Hall, wish to do so in a way that is both humorous yet challenging to the viewer.

Reference list:

Abdullah, A 2017, Wedding series, Portfolio, Viewed 26 March, 2019,https://abdulabdullah.com/section/459063-Wedding-series.html

Carrol, N 2005, Humour, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics: Philosophy, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, Ch. 19, p. 344-364, Edited Levinson, J 2009.

Crawford, A 2016, Cool Hunters Prediction, Art Collections, Magnesium Media, NSW, Issue 75, Jan-Mar 2016, p 88-89.

Crawford, A 2016, On the World Stage, Art Collections, Magnesium Media, NSW, Issue 75, Jan-Mar 2016, p 94-95.

Idioms Dictionary, 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, viewed 27 March 2019,


Nicholls, A 2016, Cool Hunters Prediction, Art Collections, Magnesium Media, NSW, Issue 75, Jan-Mar 2016, p. 76-77.

The Queensland Art Gallery, 2015, Gallery of Modern Art, Viewed 26 March, 2019, https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/apt8/artists/abdul-abdullah


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