Art Basel 2023 – Raed Yassin

For Art Basel 2023, Marfa’ is happy to show a solo presentation by Raed Yassin, titled Death Investment.

Historically, the object of the human skull has often been used as a representation of death and a reminder of our fragile mortality in the world: from the Dutch Vanitas paintings to the Mexican day of the dead, to the skull collecting aficionados of Shakespearean times, and to the pop imagery in modern culture, these memento mori symbolize the transient quality of earthly pleasures, teaching us how death can descend suddenly and without warning, leaving behind only bare bones and a memory of what once was.

This memory is also often one of power and wealth. The skull comes to display the inheritance of its owner and their powerful position in society, as a kind of projection of affluence. And if not an affluent person, one could still invest in their own skull by embedding gold and silver teeth into it: for example the Roma gypsies would implant gold teeth as a hedge against a bad economy, or sailors would do it in case they would die at sea and needed someone to identify them and their tribe depending on the placement of the gold tooth; newlywed brides would be ‘gifted’ a gold tooth as a sign of respect to the groom’s family in central Asia; and more recently gold teeth became a fashionable trend amongst American rappers, who also embellished them even more with diamonds and gems. This mobile asset could also be seen as an investment of some sort, in case all else failed the precious tooth in the skull would still remain.

But what about animal skulls? Apart from their collection as trophies or scientific objects, they have been rarely approached as reminders of death or representations of wealth. When we look closely, many animals have bad or broken teeth, from the arduous nature of their life in the wild. Could we revisit their teeth also as an economic symbol of wealth and prosperity, or respect them by gifting them gold and silver teeth, even after their deaths?

In this project, the artist reimagines these animals – monkeys, cats, beavers and foxes – as the memento mori of worldly characters with gold and silver teeth: a wandering gypsy, a young bride, a rapper, a sailor. Here, animals are viewed as the real truth tellers of our societies, with minds full of wisdom and skulls worthy of veneration: the true Vox Humana.

Working with his childhood dentist, Yassin carefully repaired the teeth of these animal skulls, in the exact same way a living human would be treated. This idea of death being repaired has an air of dark humor to it, being constantly surrounded by death, one tries to find new and interesting ways to confront it.