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An impression of the Arab contributions at the Venice Biennial 2011

http://onglobalandlocalart.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/an-impression-of-the-arab-contributions-at-the-venice-biennal-2011/

مساهمة الدول العربية في بينالي البندقية

An Impression of the contributions of several artists from the Arab world at the Venice Biennial 2011. Photos by Floris Schreve. An extensive article will follow later

The Future of a Promise

Curatorial Statement by Lina Nazaar:

“What does it mean to make a promise? In an age where the ‘promise of the future’ has become something of a cliché, what is meant by The Future of a Promise?

In its most basic sense, a promise is the manifestation of an intention to act or, indeed, the intention to refrain from acting in a specified way. A commitment is made on behalf of the promisee which suggests hope, expectation, and the assurance of a future deed committed to the best interests of all.

A promise, in sum, opens up a horizon of future possibilities, be they aesthetic, political, historical, social or indeed, critical. ‘The future of a promise’ aims to explore the nature of the promise as a form of aesthetic and socio-political transaction and how it is made manifest in contemporary visual culture in the Arab world today.

In a basic sense, there is a degree of promise in the way in which an idea is made manifest in a formal, visual context – the ‘promise’, that is, of potential meaning emerging in an artwork and its opening up to interpretation. There is also the ‘transaction’ between what the artist had in mind and the future (if not legacy) of that creative promise and the viewer. Whilst the artists included here are not representative of a movement as such, they do seek to engage with a singular issue in the Middle East today: who gets to represent the present-day realities and promise of the region and the horizons to which they aspire?

It is with this in mind that the show will enquire into the ‘promise’ of visual culture in an age that has become increasingly disaffected with politics as a means of social engagement. Can visual culture, in sum, respond to both recent events and the future promise implied in those events? And if so, what forms do those responses take?”

http://www.thefutureofapromise.com/index.php/about/view/curators_statement

The participating artists are Ziad Abillama (Lebanon), Ahmed Alsoudani (Iraq, zie ook see also this ealier contribuition) Ziad Antar (Lebanon), Jananne Al-Ani (Iraq), Kader Attia (Algeria/France), Ayman Baalbaki (Lebanon), Fayçal Baghriche (Algeria), Lara Baladi (Lebanon), Yto Barrada (France, Morocco), Taysir Batniyi (Palestine), Abdelkader Benchamma (France/Algeria), Manal Aldowayan (Saudi Arabia), Mounir Fatmi (Morocco, see this earlier contribution), Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia), Mona Hatoum (Palestine/Lebanon), Raafat Ishak (Egypt), Emily Jacir (Palestine), Nadia Kaabi-Linke (Tunesia), Yazan Khalili (Palestine), Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabia, see this earlier contribution), Driss Ouadahi (Algeria/Morocco) en Ayman Yossri Daydban (Saudi Arabia).

Mona Hatoum, Drowning sorrows (Gran Centenario), installatie van ‘doorgesneden’ glazen flessen, 2002, op ‘The Future of a Promise’, Biënnale van Venetië, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve

Mona Hatoum, Drowning Sorrows (detail)- photo Floris Schreve

‘Hatoum’s work is the presentation of identity as unable to identify with itself, but nevertheless grappling the notion (perhaps only the ghost) of identity to itself. Thus is exiled figured and plotted in the objects she creates (Said, “Art of displacement” 17).

‘Hatoum’s Drowning Sorrows distinctly exemplifies the “exile” Said denotes above. Drowning Sorrows displays the pain and beauty of being an exile without overtly supplying the tools with which to unhinge the paradox attached to it. It creates suggestive effects which ultimately lead the viewer towards its paradoxical ambiance. The work contains a circle of glass pieces drawn on a floor. The circle is made up of different shapes of glass flasks and, as they appear on the floor, it seems that the circle holds them afloat. The disparately angled glasses imply cuts from their sharp edges and their appearance is associated with a feeling of pain from the cut. This circle of glasses, therefore, signifies an exilic ache and embodies an authority to “figure” and “plot” the pain’.

The work signifies the reality of being unmoored from a fixed identity as the flasks are ambiguously put on a ground where they are perceived to be ungrounded. The appearance of the glasses is also unusual—we do not get to see their full shapes. As the artist’s imagination endows them with a symbolic meaning, they have been cut in triangular and rectangular forms of different sizes. These varieties of cut glasses speak of an undying pain that the exile suffers. In an exile’s life, irresolvable pain comes from dispossessions, uncertainty, and non-belonging. Being uprooted from a deep-seated identity, an exile finds him/herself catapulted into a perpetual flux; neither going back “home” nor a complete harmony with the adopted environment through adopting internally the “new” ideals is easily achievable. There exists an insuperable rift between his/her identity and locales which both are nevertheless integral parts of their identity. Hence, Hatoum portrays the exilic “identity as unable to identify with itself,” as Said puts it.

However, the glass edges above also represent that an exile’s experiences are nonetheless beautiful and worthy of celebration. The glass pieces show the experiences that an exilic traveller gathers in the journey of life. The journey is all about brokenness and difference. But an exile’s life becomes enriched in many ways by being filled up with varieties of knowledge and strengths accrued through encountering differences. Hatoum’s creation, therefore, befittingly captures these benefits by transferring them into an art work that bewitches the viewer through an unknown beauty. Being an expression of beauty, the art work is transformed into a celebration of “exile.” Despite “Drowning” in “Sorrows,” Hatoum’s work demonstrates an authority to give vent to the exilic pain through a work of beauty.

Ultimately, we see that an exile is not entirely drowned by the sorrows of loss. Notwithstanding the anguish, the exile gains the privilege to explore the conditions that create the pain; because the painfulness zeroes in on the very nature of identity formation. The exile has the privilege of reflecting on the reality surrounding his/her identity. Therefore, Hatoum’s glasses are not pieced together purposelessly; they depict the ambiguity that the exile feels towards identity. Her creative ambiguity makes us both enjoy the art and question the reality which we ourselves, exiles or not, find ourselves in. “Drowning Sorrows” shows a way to question the reality by being ambiguous towards it. Hatoum thus transmutes her exilic pain into a work of imagination which becomes an emblem of her artistic power through such suggestiveness.

From this point of view, Hatoum is an exemplary Saidian “exile” as she turns the reality of being uprooted from “home” into an intellectual power against the systematisation of identities. In Orientalism, Said distinguishes the dividing line that severs the supposedly superior Western culture from the ostensibly inferior one of the “Others.” He examines the modus operandi of such a disjunction. He studies power-structures to reveal how they dissociate cultures. Thus the Saidian “exile” develops independent criticisms of cultures in order to defeat the debilitating effects of discursivity that disconnect cultures. The “exile” thus sees the whole world as a foreign land captured in the power-knowledge nexus’.

From: Rehnuma Sazzad, Hatoum, Said and Foucault: Resistance through Revealing the Power-Knowledge Nexus? van Postcolonial Text, Vol 4, No 3 2008), see here

Emily Jacir, Embrace, 2005 (‘The Future of a Promise’, Venetië, 2011- foto Floris Schreve)

Embrace is a circular, motorised sculpture fabricated to look like an empy luggage conveyor system found in airports. It remains perfectly still and quiet, but when a viewer comes near the sculpture their presence activates the work; it turns on and starts moving. The work’s diameter refers to the height of the artist. The work symbolizes, amongst many things, waiting and the etymology of the word ‘embrace’.

Emily Jacir (statement for The Future of a Promise)

Ahmed Alsoudani, Untitled, acryl en houtskool op doek, 2010 (‘The Future of a Promise’, Venetië, 2011- foto Floris Schreve)

‘At the time I was in the tenth grade and I was spending hours reading Russian novels and poetry. Reading things like The Brothers Karamazow, The Idiot, War and Peace, Mayakovsky and Anna Akhmatova, and an anthology of poetry from the frontline of World War II- I can’t remember the title- helped me clarify my own circumstances and put the idea of leaving Iraq in my head. At that time in Iraq all ideas, even private thoughts, could land you in jail. As millions of Iraqis dreamt of leaving, I knew I had to plan carefully. (…) I left Baghdad in the middle of the afternoon and traveled by taxi to Kurdistan, which was under U.S. protection. We had to pass many heavily guarded checkpoints, but my older brother used his connections to bribe our way through. It cost him a lot of money. I stayed for a few weeks in Kurdistan, and later I met with an Iraqi opposition member who helped me cross into Syria (…) After I  escaped from Baghdad I spent four years in Syria. In the beginning life was pretty rough and lonely, but eventually I made a few friends. One in particular helped me tremendously- an Iraqi poet named Mohammed Mazlom who was a friend of my brother. He let me stay at his place in Damascus for a year and helped me get a job writing for the Iraqi opposition newspaper there. The big problem with Syria is that though they don’t bother you as an Iraqi exile, you can’t get the paperwork you need to be a legal resident either. You’re in a kind of a limbo: it’s almost if you don’t exist. I knew I would eventually have to leave there as well. In Damascus there is an office called UNHCR, which is a part of the United Nations. Every day the office is full of refugees waiting to get an application to leave. It was a complicated process but I decided after two years in this state of limbo to do it. It took almost a year of waiting but finally I got a meeting with someone from the US embassy. As someone writing for the Iraqi opposition in Syria my case was strong, and after several meetings they granted me political asylum’

(in Robert Goff, Cassie Rosenthal, Ahmed Alsoudani, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, Germany, 2009).

Ahmed Alsoudani, Untitled, acryl en houtskool op doek, 2010 (‘The Future of a Promise’, Venetië, 2011- foto Floris Schreve)

‘These turbulent paintings depict a disfigured tableau of war and atrocity. Although the content of the paintings draw on my own experiences of recent wars in Iraq, the imagery of devestation and violence- occasionally laced with a morbid and barbed humour-evoke universal experience of conflict and human suffering. Deformed figures, some almost indistinguishable and verging on the bestial, intertwine and distort in vivid, surreal landscapes. Figures are often depicted at a moment of transition- through fear and agony- from human to grotesque’

Ahmed Alsoudani (statement for The Future of a Promise)

Jananne Al-Ani, Aerial II, production still from Shadow Sites II, 2011 (bron: http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/sharjah-biennial-10-plot-for-a-biennial-16-march-16-may-2011-and-art-dubai-16-19-march-2011/

The Aesthetics of Disappearance: A Land Without People – Jananne Al-Ani from Sharjah Art Foundation on Vimeo.

Jananne Al-Ani, Shadow Sites II, 2011 (The Future of a Promise, Venetië, 2011-foto Floris Schreve)

Jananne Al-Ani, Shadow Sites II, 2011 (The Future of a Promise, Venetië, 2011-foto Floris Schreve)

Jananne Al-Ani, Shadow Sites II, 2011 (The Future of a Promise, Venetië, 2011-foto Floris Schreve)

Shadow Sites II is a film that takes the form of an aerial journey. It is made up of images of landscape bearing traces of natural and manmade activity as well as ancient and contemporary structures. Seen from above, the landscape appears abstracted, its buildings flattened and its inhabitants invisible to the human eye. Only when the sun is at its lowest, do the features on the ground, the archeological sites and settlements come to light. Such ‘shadow sites’ when seen from the air, map the latent images by the landscape’s surface.  Much like a photographic plate, the landscape itself holds the potential to be exposed, thereby revealing the memory of its past. Historically, representations of the Middle Eastern landscape, from William Holman Hunt’s 1854 painting The Scapegoat (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scapegoat_(painting), FS) to media images from the 1991 Desert Storm campaign have depicted the region as uninhabited and without sign of civilization. In response to the military’s use of digital technology and satellite navigation, Shadow Sites II recreates the aerial vantage point of such missions while taking an altogether different viewpoint of the land it surveys. The film burrows into the landscape as one image slowly dissolves in another, like a mineshaft tunneling deep into substrate of memories preserved over time’.

Jananne Al-Ani (statement The Future of a Promise)

.

Ahmed Mater, The Cowboy Code, op ‘The Future of a Promise’, Biënnale van Venetië, 2011 (foto Floris Schreve)

Mater in his statement about ‘Antenna’:

“Antenna is a symbol and a metaphor for growing

up in Saudi Arabia. As children, we used to climb

up to the roofs of our houses and hold these

television antennas up to the sky.

We were trying to catch a signal from beyond the

nearby border with Yemen or Sudan; searching –

like so many of my generation in Saudi –

for music, for poetry, for a glimpse of a different

kind of life. I think this work can symbolise the

whole Arab world right now… searching for a

different kind of life through other stories and

other voices. This story says a lot about my life

and my art; I catch art from the story of my life,

I don’t know any other way”.

Ahmed Mater

Ahmed Mater, Antenna, op ‘The Future of a Promise’, Biënnale van Venetië, 2011 (foto Floris Schreve)

Spring Cleaning! By Franck Hermann Ekra (winner of 2010 AICA Incentive Prize for Young Critics):

The lost Springs, Mounir Fatmi’s minimal installation, displays the 22 flags of the states of the Arab League at half mast. In the Tunisian and Egyptian pavilions, two brooms refer to the upheavals that led to the fall of President Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Mubarak in Egypt. This evocative, subtle and trenchant work of art has been inspired by the current protests against neo-patriarchal powers in the Maghreb, the Mashriq and the Arabian Peninsula.

In the anthropology  of the state, the flag is  a symbol rich in identity and attribution. It is a part of a secular liturgy which establishes  a holy space for the politically sacred.  Mounir Fatmi seems to have captured this with his intuition of an iconic device halfway between the altar and the universalizing official dramaturgy. He gets to the core of democratic representation, on the capacity to metaphorically catalyse the civil link. There is a touch of the domestic in his contemporary heraldry.

Mounir Fatmi, Aborted Revolutions (installation), 2011-Photo Floris Schreve

The necessary cleansing that Mounir Fatmi suggests does not concern the community but rather the dictators who dream themselves as demiurges. It calls for action-creation. The Brooms ironically point to some dynamic process and stimulating imitation effect.  Who’s next? What else should be dusted? Where has the rubbish been hidden?

Though the aesthetics of sweeping, the artist testifies to some timeless spring. A standard bearer of the pan-Arabic revolutionary revivalism and its enchanting Utopia, he breaks away from the prevailing monotony of always disenchanted tomorrows, irreverently using the devices of complicity through self-sufficient references, and blurring the familiar novel and popular romance. Giving his work an essential and symbolic function, he dematerializes it, as if to repeat over and over again that symbols are food for thought’.

From ’The Future of a Promise’.

Abdulnasser Gharem, The Stamp (Amen), rubber on wooden stamp, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

‘My relationship with the urban environment is reciprocal; streets and the cities inspire a particularly critical reaction. As a socially engaged artist, I need to take back to the people, to the city, to the built environment.

In previous works I have related the story of social environments marked for destruction, regardless of the fate of the people who live in it, or of disaster arising from a misplaced trust in the security of concrete. With the current work, I turn my attention to the false promise of the manufactured modern city.

Viewing 3D models for the future cities springing up across the Gulf, focuses attention on the disjunction between the apparent utopia of the future they appear to offer and the daily, complex and problematic reality of our actual urban lives.

These cities can be a distraction, a vehicle exploited by bureaucracies who wish to divert the attention of a sophisticated population away from a reality which is not model. Through the use of stamps, I underline the inevitable stultifying and complicating effect the bureaucracy will have, even as it works to build its vision for a better society. Why do we look to an utopian future when we have social issues we need to address now? I am not opposed to this brave new world but I want to see governments engage with the streets and cities, and the problems of their people, as they are now. Why built new cities when there are poor people we need to look after? This is a distraction: we should not be afraid to change.

Abdulnasser Gharem  (statement for The Future of a Promise)

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xnbbqj
Saudi artist captures Arab Spring door CNN_International

Manal Aldowayan, Suspended Together, installation, 2011 (detail)

On Manal Al-Dowayan:

Suspended Together is an installation that gives the impression of a movement and freedom.

However, a closer look at the 200 doves brings the realization that the doves are actually frozen and suspended, with no hope of flight. An even closer look shows that each dove carries on its body the permission document that allows a Saudi woman to travel. Notwithstanding the circumstances, all Saudi women are required to have this document, issued by their appointed male guardian.

The artist reached out to a large group of leading female figures from Saudi Arabia to donate their permission documents for inclusion in this artwork. Suspended Together carries the documents of award-winning scientists, educators, journalists, engineers, artists and leaders with groundbreaking achievements that contributed  to society.  The youngest contributor is six months old and the oldest is 60 years old. In the artist’s words: ‘regardless of age and achievement, when it comes to travel, all these women are treated like a flock of suspended doves’.

http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/bien/venice_biennale/2011/tour/the_future_of_a_promise/manal_al_dowayan

Manal Aldowayan, Suspended Together, installation, 2011

Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Flying Carpets, installation, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

The Flying Carpet is an Oriental fairytale, a dream of instantaneous and boundless travel, but when I visited Venice I saw that illegal immigrants use carpets to fly the coop. They sell counterfeit goods in order to make some money for living. If they are caught by the police they risk expulsion.

There was a butcher in Tunis who wanted to honour Ben Ali. His idea was to call his shop ‘Butcher shop of the 7th November’, the day when Ben Ali assumed the presidency in a ‘medical’ coup d’ état from then President Habib Bourguiba. After he did so, he disappeared without a trace.

In winter 2010, I visited Cairo, a city which has more citizens than the country I was born. This metropolis is characterized by strong contradictions: tradition and modernism, culture and illiteracy, poverty and wealth, bureaucracy and spirituality. All voices fade through the noisy hustle of this melting pot, but if you risk a closer look on the walls you will find the whisper of the people carved into stone.

The three works document  the crossing of borders: traversing the European border leads to problems of being a EU citizen or not; the wide line between insult and homage was transgressed through the unspoken proximity of slaughter and governance of the former Tunesian regime; and the longing for freedom in the police state of Cairo was already written into the walls of the city’

Nadia Kaabi-Linke

Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Butcher bliss, mixed media, 2010

Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Impression of Cairo, mixed media, 2010 (detail)

The Future of a Promise, with works of (ao) Nadia Kaabi-Linke and Emily Jacir

The Pavilion of Egypt

http://www.ahmedbasiony.com/images/pdf/e-flux.pdf

Right: Ahmed Basiony, “30 Days of Running in the Place” documentation footage, February–March2010, Palace of the Arts Gallery, Opera House Grounds, Cairo, Egypt.

Left: Ahmed Basiony, 28th of January (Friday of Rage) 6:50 pm, Tahrir Square. Photo taken by Magdi Mostafa.

Biennale di Arte / 54th International Venice Biennale

Egyptian Pavilion, 2011

30 Days of Running in the Place

Honoring Ahmed Basiony (1978–2011)

Opening reception:

3 June 2011 at 4:15 PM

Runs until 27 November 2011

www.ahmedbasiony.com

Ahmed Basiony (1978–2011) was a crucial component as an artist and professor to the use of new media technology in his artistic and socio-cultural research. He designed projects, each working in its own altering direction out of a diversity of domains in order to expose a personal account experienced through the function of audio and visual material. Motioning through his artistic projects, with an accurate eye of constant visibility, and invisibility, while listening to audio material that further relayed the mappings of social information: Whether in the study of the body, locomotion through a street, the visual impact of a scream versus data representation in the form of indecipherable codes. The artist functioned as a contemporary documentarian; only allowing the archival of data the moment it came in, and no longer there after.

30 Days of Running in the Place is the play of a video documentation to a project that had taken place one year ago. Marking a specific time when the artist had performed a particular demonstration of running, in order to anticipate a countering digital reaction; the aim was to observe how in the act of running in a single standing point, with sensors installed in the soles of his shoes, and on his body [to read levels of body heat], could it had been translated into a visual diagram only to be read in codes, and visually witness the movement of energy and physical consumption become born into an image.

One year later, the uprisings to the Egyptian revolution took on Basiony’s attention, as it had millions of other Egyptians motioning through the exact same states of social consumption. It was from then on, for a period of four days, did Basiony film with his digital and phone camera, the events of downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square, leading to his death on the night of the January 28th, 2011.

An evolution of universal networks created out of audio, visual and electronic communications, blurring the distinction between interpersonal communication, and that of the masses, Basiony’s works only existed in real-time, and then after that they became part of the archives of research he invested into making. It is with this note, we collectively desired, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, to recognize and honor the life and death of an artist who was fully dedicated to the notions of an Egypt, that to only recently, demanded the type of change he was seeking his entire life.

A gesture of 30 years young, up against 30 years of a multitude of disquieted unrest.

Curatorial Team

Aida Eltorie, Curator

Shady El Noshokaty, Executive Curator

Magdi Mostafa, Sound & Media Engineering

Hosam Hodhod, Production Assistant

Website: http://www.ahmedbasiony.com

Contact: info@ahmedbasiony.com

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xkjond Ahmed Basiony: Thirty Days of Running in the… door vernissagetv

My own impression:

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Basiony, 30 days of running in the space, video installation, Pavilion of Egypt, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Photos by Floris Schreve

The Pavilion of Saudi Arabia

http://www.thisistomorrow.info/viewArticle.aspx?artId=823

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Pavilion, Arsenale, Venice, Italy, 6 Jun 2011

The Black Arch

Title : The Black Arch, installation view Credit : Courtesy Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Pavilion

//


Press Release Abdulaziz Alsebail, Commissioner, is pleased to announce that Shadia and Raja Alem will represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its inaugural pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, Mona Khazindar1 and Robin Start2 will curate The Black Arch, an installation by the two artists. The work of Shadia and Raja Alem can be read as a double narrative. Raja the writer, and Shadia the visual artist, have a non-traditional artist’s background. While having had a classical and literary education the sisters acquired knowledge through their encounters with pilgrims visiting Makkah. Their family had welcomed pilgrims into their home during the Hajj for generations. Since the mid 1980s, the sisters have travelled the world for exhibitions, lectures, and for the general exploration and appreciation of art and literature, and in some way seeking the origins of cultures and civilizations that sparked their imagination through the stories of the visitors to Makkah throughout their childhood. The Black Arch was created through a profound collaboration between Shadia and Raja Alem. It is very much about a meeting point of the two artists; of two visions of the world; from darkness to light, and of two cities – Makkah and Venice. The work is a stage, set to project the artists’ collective memory of Black – the monumental absence of colour – and physical representation of Black, referring to their past. The narrative is fuelled by the inspirational tales told by their aunts and grandmothers, and is anchored in Makkah, where the sisters grew up in the 1970s. The experience with the physical presence of Black, the first part of the installation, is striking for the artists; Raja explains, “I grew up aware of the physical presence of Black all around, the black silhouettes of Saudi women, the black cloth of the Al ka’ba3 and the black stone4 which is said to have enhanced our knowledge.” As a counter-point, the second part of the installation is a mirror image, reflecting the present. These are the aesthetic parameters of the work. The Black Arch is also about a journey, about transition; inspired by Marco Polo and fellow 13th century traveller Ibn Battuta5 – both examples of how to bridge cultures through travel. Shadia explains how she felt a desire to follow Marco Polo’s example and “to bring my city of Makkah to Venice, through objects brought from there: a Black Arch; a cubic city, and a handful of Muzdalifah pebbles.6” The artists focus on the similarities between the two cosmopolitan cities and their inspirational powers. The double vision of two women, two sisters, two artists unfolds in a world of ritual and tradition which, however, confronts the day-to-day reality of human behaviour with simplicity. “If the doors of perception were cleared, everything would appear to man as it really is, infinite.”  William Blake.

See also the extensive documentation on the website of the Saudi Pavilion: http://saudipavilionvenice.com/

Impression by Floris Schreve:

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Raja & Shadia Alem, The Black Arch, installation, Venice Biennial, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

The Pavilion of Iraq; my own impression

Introduction of the curator Mary Angela Shroth:

“These are extraordinary times for Iraq. The project to create an official country Pavilion for the 54. Biennale di Venezia is a multiple and participatory work in progress since 2004. It is historically coming at a period of great renewal after more than 30 years of war and conflict in that country.

The Pavilion of Iraq will feature six internationally-known contemporary Iraqi artists who are emblematic in their individual experimental artistic research, a result of both living inside and outside their country. These artists, studying Fine Arts in Baghdad, completed their arts studies in Europe and USA. They represent two generations: one, born in the early 1950′s, has experienced both the political instability and the cultural richness of that period in Iraq. Ali Assaf, Azad Nanakeli and Walid Siti came of age in the 1970′s during the period of the creation of political socialism that marked their background. The second generation, to include Adel Abidin, Ahmed Alsoudani and Halim Al Karim, grew up during the drama of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the invasion of Kuwait, overwhelming UN economic sanctions and subsequent artistic isolation. This generation of artists exited the country before the 2003 invasion, finding refuge in Europe and USA by sheer fortune coupled with the artistic virtue of their work. All six artists thus have identities indubitably forged with contemporary artistic practice that unites the global situation with the Iraqi experience and they represent a sophisticated and experimental approach that is completely international in scope.

The six artists will execute works on site that are inspired by both the Gervasuti Foundation space and the thematic choice of water. This is a timely interpretation since the lack of water is a primary source of emergency in Iraq, more than civil war and terrorism. A documentary by Oday Rasheed curated by Rijin Sahakian will feature artists living and working in Iraq today.

The Pavilion of Iraq has been produced thanks to Shwan I. Taha and Reem Shather-Kubba/Patrons Committee, corporate and individual contributors, Embassy of the Republic of Iraq and generous grants from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Hussain Ali Al-Hariri, and Nemir & Nada Kirdar. Honorary Patron is the architect Zaha Hadid“.

Azad Nanakeli, Destnuej (purification), Video Installation, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

‘In my language Destnuej means ‘purification’, to cleanse the body from all sins. When I was a boy, water for daily use was extracted from wells for drinking, cooking and washing. Long ago the water from the wells was clear and pure, but already at that time, however, things had changed: my friends who lived in the same area suffered from illness linked to contaminated water. My nephew contracted malaria and died. Since then, much has changed and the wells no longer exist. As in most places they were replaced by aqueducts but the problem persists. Residues of every shape and substance are poured incessantly into the water, poisoning rivers and oceans.

Toxic waste, nuclear by-products, and various chemicals multiply inexorably, seeping into groundwater. Slowly, day after day, they enter into our bodies. For these reasons, the water is no longer pure. Drinking, cooking, washing. Purifying. Purification is an ancient ritual, disseminated in the four corners of the world.

The man who continues to drink this water contaminates his own body. The man who uses it to purify himself contaminates himself.

My work is based on and motivated by these themes, which are also linked to general degradation man causes to the environment around us’.

Azad Nanakeli, March 2011

From: Ali Assaf, Mary Angela Shroth, Acqua Ferita/Wounded Water; Six Iraqi artists interpret the theme of water, Gangemi editore, Venice Biennale, 2011, p. 52

Azad Nanakeli, Au (Water), Mixed Media Installation with audio, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

‘Au’ means water in Kurdish. It is present on our planet in enormous quantities. For the most part, however, it is not available for use: it is salt water that makes up our oceans and glaciers.

The remaining quantity, which we use for the needs of mankind, might be considered sufficient for the moment, but the resources are not unlimited. The need for water increases in an exponential way, with the rise of the world population, and in a few years time the supply might be in jeopardy.

Add to the man’s carelessness and irresponsibility. We waste and pollute water supplies in the name of progress, of consumerism and of economic interests.

It is estimated that within the next twenty years consumption is destined to increase by 40%. What’s more, already today a large part of the world’s population does not have access to clean water sources; among them are the people of the Middle East.

In ancient days and until a few decades ago, these sources existed throughout the territory. They were called oasis. Today after the building of dams by Turkey in the 70’s and by Syria in the 80’s, and the relentless draining of 15,000 square kilometers of Iraqi land (a decision by the regime) everything has changed: where there was once fertile land, there is now desert and desolation.

The World Bank estimates that, by 2035, only 90% of the population of Western Asia, including the Arab Peninsula,  will be without water. The small quantity that will still be available will be directed to urban areas, while the countryside will drown in inescapable aridity.

The accumulation of refuse of large urban and industrial areas over the years had created further danger and damage to the integrity of its precious resource.

Underground water levels are polluted by toxic substances. Non-biodegradable materials from refuse dumps accumulate in canals and oceans.

This work emulates the disturbing images from the media of islands composed entirely of accumulated waste.

Azad Nanakeli, March, 2011

Acqua Ferita, p. 56

Halim Al Karim, Nations Laundry, video installation, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Nations Laundry

In this video (Nations Laundry), the idea and materials used to reflect the concepts of threat, apprehension, and survival in matters of our environment. Within this work, my aim is to create an awareness that may, in turn, help bring about positive changes to our failing environmental systems that came as a result of yours and our wars.

Halim Al-Karim, March 2011

Acqua Ferita, p. 58

Halim Al Karim, Hidden Love 3, fotograph lambda-print, 2010 (photo Floris Schreve)

Halim al Karim (overview- source http://www.modernism.ro/2011/08/29/six-iraqi-artists-acqua-ferita-wounded-water-iraq-pavilion-the-54th-international-art-exhibition-of-the-venice-biennale/)

My works dwell on the envolving mentality of urban society. I am concerned with ongoing and unresolved issues, particularly when they relate to violence. I search both through the layers of collective memory and my personal experience in that context.

In this process, the main challenge for me is to identify and stay clear of the historical and contemporary elements of brainwash.

Through these works I try to visualize an urban society free of violence. These out of focus images, sometimes rendered more mysterious under a veil of silk, imply uncertainty of context, time and place. These techniques, which have become the hallmark of my work, are a means to overcome the effects of politics of deception and, in turn, transform me and the camera into single truth seeking entity.

Halim Al-Karim, March 2011

Acqua Ferita, p. 58

Ahmed Alsoudani (overview- source http://www.modernism.ro/2011/08/29/six-iraqi-artists-acqua-ferita-wounded-water-iraq-pavilion-the-54th-international-art-exhibition-of-the-venice-biennale/)

‘My deepest memories are central to my painting but it is often easier only to look at the surface; to see war, torture and violence and even to consider my art only in terms of the present Iraq war. My own approach is different from anything related to the first impression. I am interested in memory and history, and in the potent areas between the two that enable me to keep memories alive in the present. As an artist, it is important not to get obsessed with my subject matter. I need critical distance. Some of the events that inform my paintings are things I have personally experienced while others I have heard about from family or close friends. These events are refashioned  in my imagination in such a way that I am able to look at them both very personally and with some distance. If I were too personal and too literal about these subjects I would be overly emotional and that would negatively affect the work, I would take it into a place which is something other than art. In order for these works to survive as art I need the distance my interior process of distilling my subject matter affords me. In terms of Iraq, I care deeply about the country and the people there. My work is not intended to be a first person account on war, atrocity or the effect of totalitarianism in Iraq in the last twenty years; in fact I think there are universal and common aspects to these things throughout history and different parts of the world and I hope viewers will see this in my paintings in Venice’.

Ahmed Alsoudani, New York, april, 2011 (from Ali Assaf, Mary Angela Shroth, Acqua Ferita/Wounded Water; Six Iraqi artists interpret the theme of water, Gangemi editore, Venice Biennale, 2011)

Walid Siti, Beauty-spot, installation, 2011 (http://fnewsmagazine.com/2011/07/biennale-binge-part-2/ )

Beauty Spot

The Gali Ali Breg (Gorge of Ali Beg) waterfall is part of Hamilton Road, built in 1932 under the guidance of New Zealand engineer Sir Archibald Milne Hamilton to link Erbil with the Iranian border. The waterfall had long been a tourist destination, featured in Iraqi publications and on the current  5000 Iraqi Dinar note.

Two years ago a drought afflicted the region, and left the waterfall dry in the summer seasons. This prompted the Kurdish government to hire a Lebanese company to divert water to the falls, which involved pumping 250 cubic meters of water per second. The imagery on the note thus remained intact.

Walid Siti, 2011

Acqua Ferita, p. 64

Walid Siti, Mes0 (detail), Mylar mirror, twill tape, nylon fishing line and wood, 2011 (source: http://www.modernism.ro/2011/08/29/six-iraqi-artists-acqua-ferita-wounded-water-iraq-pavilion-the-54th-international-art-exhibition-of-the-venice-biennale/)

Walid Siti,   Meso (detail), Mylar mirror, twill tape, nylon fishing line and wood, 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Meso 2011

From the air, the Great Zab River near Erbil forms a snaking, green body of water in a dry, golden landscape. Though beautiful, the sight also reveals the skeletons of dried out rivers and streams that once contributed to its flow. This piece exposes the fragility of the Great Zab (one of the main tributaries to the Tigris River), now exposed to the lurking threats of drought, rapid development and political tugs-of-war.

Walid Siti, 2011

Acqua Ferita, p. 64

Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation (photo Floris Schreve- see here a compilation)

Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation (photo Floris Schreve- see here a compilation)

Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation (photo Floris Schreve- see here a compilation)

Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation (photo Floris Schreve- see here a compilation)

Adel Abidin, Consumptions of War, Video Projection and amorphic installation (photo Floris Schreve- see here a compilation)

Consumption of War explores the environmental crisis through the participatory crisis and spectator culture of profit driven bodies. Today, global corporate entities encourage consumption on a massive scale for maximum profit, disregarding the obscene amounts of water needed to produce ‘necessities’ such as a pair of jeans or cup of coffee. In Iraq, major corporations have signed the largest free oil exploration deals in history. Yet while every barrel of oil extracted requires 1.5 barrels of water, 1 out of every 4 citizens has no access to clean drinking water.

In a corporate office, two men compete in a childish battle inspired by Star Wars, using fluorescent lights as swords. Each light is consumed until the darkened room marks the game’s abrupt end. Alternating between lush and dry, attractive and foolish, this is a landscape of false promises and restricted power’

Adel Abidin, March 2011, Acqua Ferita, p. 34

Narciso – Alì Assaf from EcoArt Project on Vimeo.

Ali Assaf, still from Narciso (photo Floris Schreve)

For the 2011 Biennale I have conceived two works. Between them, they approach several aspects following my recent visit to my hometown, Al Basrah, where I lived till the age of 18 and where the majority of my gamily still resides.

Narciso

In my parents’ house in Al Basrah, I found myself turning the pages of an old schoolbook on Caravaggio (1571-1610). Before an illustration of his ‘Narciso’, these questions came to mind:

‘What would happen today if Narcissus saw himself in the water?’

‘Would he be able to see his image in today’s polluted water?’

‘And myself? If I was able to see my image in the waters of Al Basrah, what would I see?’

In this manner my return to Al Basrah had the meaning of reflecting myself in my own history and in its own in-depth and intimate personal identity. But it was impossible to do, because I found this identity led astray and darkened.

Ali Assaf, al-Basrah, the Venice of the East (installation), 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ali Assaf, al-Basrah, the Venice of the East (installation), 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ali Assaf, al-Basrah, the Venice of the East (installation), 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ali Assaf, al-Basrah, the Venice of the East (installation), 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Ali Assaf,  al-Basrah, the Venice of the East (detail), 2011 (photo Floris Schreve)

Al Basrah, the Venice of the East

My arrival at the border between Kuwait and Iraq was a shock.

A profound sense of frustration when confronted with this reality.

‘ There was nothing left from those memories that were so important to my survival. Only destruction and ugliness. The surviving friends and family had aged, the Shatt al-Arab River had become saline.

The canals had dried up and were a deposit for refuse and garbage, the historic buildings destroyed or substituted by illegal constructions, the dates were contaminated.

The Shenashil built of wood (with their Indo-English balconies) were abandoned to their own devices, to the sun and rain, they had lost their charm and characteristic beauty. These places were corroded by humidity and lack of care, marked by war and the embargo.

All without a trace of poetry.

Ali Assaf, 2011

Acqua Ferita, p. 46

Me in the Black Arch

Floris Schreve

فلوريس سحرافا

(أمستردام، هولندا)

H575BBQT5U46

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Tien jaar na 9/11

Nu het tien jaar is na 9/11 wil ik op deze plaats ook stilstaan bij de aanslagen in Amerika, die grote gevolgen hadden voor de gebeurtenissen in het afgelopen decennium. Ik wil dat doen door hier een aantal documentaires aan te prijzen, waarvan ik zelf geloof dat die belangrijk/ interessant/veelzeggend zijn.

Allereerst natuurlijk het superieure Channel 4 drieluik The Power of Nightmares:

The Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a 3 part BBC documentary film series, written and produced by Adam Curtis.
The films compare the rise of the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and claiming similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organized force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.

Part 1: Baby It’s Cold Outside:

Zie voor een versie met Nederlandse ondertiteling:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1209880818148218142

The first part of the series explains the origin of Islamism and Neo-Conservatism. It shows Egyptian civil servant Sayyid Qutb, depicted as the founder of modern Islamist thought, visiting the U.S. to learn about the education system, but becoming disgusted with what he saw as a corruption of morals and virtues in western society through individualism. When he returns to Egypt, he is disturbed by westernization under Gamal Abdel Nasser and becomes convinced that in order to save society it must be completely restructured along the lines of Islamic law while still using western technology. He also becomes convinced that this can only be accomplished through the use of an elite “vanguard” to lead a revolution against the established order. Qutb becomes a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and, after being tortured in one of Nasser’s jails, comes to believe that western-influenced leaders can justly be killed for the sake of removing their corruption. Qutb is executed in 1966, but he influences the future mentor of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to start his own secret Islamist group. Inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution, Zawahiri and his allies assassinate Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat, in 1981, in hopes of starting their own revolution. The revolution does not materialize, and Zawahiri comes to believe that the majority of Muslims have been corrupted not only by their western-inspired leaders, but Muslims themselves have been affected by jahilliyah and thus both may be legitimate targets of violence if they do not join him. They continued to have the belief that a vanguard was necessary to rise up and overthrow the corrupt regime and replace with a pure Islamist state.

At the same time in the United States, a group of disillusioned liberals, including Irving Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, look to the political thinking of Leo Strauss after the perceived failure of President Johnson’s “Great Society”. They come to the conclusion that the emphasis on individual liberty was the undoing of the plan. They envisioned restructuring America by uniting the American people against a common evil, and set about creating a mythical enemy. These factions, the Neo-Conservatives, came to power under the Reagan administration, with their allies Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and work to unite the United States in fear of the Soviet Union. The Neo-Conservatives allege the Soviet Union is not following the terms of disarmament between the two countries, and, with the investigation of “Team B”, they accumulate a case to prove this with dubious evidence and methods. President Reagan is convinced nonetheless.

Part 2: The Phantom Victory:

Zie voor een versie met Nederlandse ondertiteling: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7307000565144006714

In the second episode, Islamist factions, rapidly falling under the more radical influence of Zawahiri and his rich Saudi acolyte Osama bin Laden, join the Neo-Conservative-influenced Reagan Administration to combat the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. When the Soviets eventually pull out and when the Eastern Bloc begins to collapse in the late 1980s, both groups believe they are the primary architects of the “Evil Empire’s” defeat. Curtis argues that the Soviets were on their last legs anyway, and were doomed to collapse without intervention.

However, the Islamists see it quite differently, and in their triumph believe that they had the power to create ‘pure’ Islamic states in Egypt and Algeria. However, attempts to create perpetual Islamic states are blocked by force. The Islamists then try to create revolutions in Egypt and Algeria by the use of terrorism to scare the people into rising up. However, the people were terrified by the violence and the Algerian government uses their fear as a way to maintain power. In the end, the Islamists declare the entire populations of the countries as inherently contaminated by western values, and finally in Algeria turn on each other, each believing that other terrorist groups are not pure enough Muslims either.

In America, the Neo-Conservatives’ aspirations to use the United States military power for further destruction of evil are thrown off track by the ascent of George H. W. Bush to the presidency, followed by the 1992 election of Bill Clinton leaving them out of power. The Neo-Conservatives, with their conservative Christian allies, attempt to demonize Clinton throughout his presidency with various real and fabricated stories of corruption and immorality. To their disappointment, however, the American people do not turn against Clinton. The Islamist attempts at revolution end in massive bloodshed, leaving the Islamists without popular support. Zawahiri and bin Laden flee to the sufficiently safe Afghanistan and declare a new strategy; to fight Western-inspired moral decay they must deal a blow to its source: the United States.

Zie voor een versie met Nederlandse ondertiteling: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=551664672370888389

The final episode addresses the actual rise of Al-Qaeda. Curtis argues that, after their failed revolutions, bin Laden and Zawahiri had little or no popular support, let alone a serious complex organization of terrorists, and were dependent upon independent operatives to carry out their new call for jihad. The film instead argues that in order to prosecute bin Laden in absentia for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings, US prosecutors had to prove he was the head of a criminal organization responsible for the bombings. They find a former associate of bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl, and pay him to testify that bin Laden was the head of a massive terrorist organization called “Al-Qaeda”. With the September 11th attacks, Neo-Conservatives in the new Republican government of George W. Bush use this created concept of an organization to justify another crusade against a new evil enemy, leading to the launch of the War on Terrorism.

After the American invasion of Afghanistan fails to uproot the alleged terrorist network, the Neo-Conservatives focus inwards, searching unsuccessfully for terrorist sleeper cells in America. They then extend the war on “terror” to a war against general perceived evils with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The ideas and tactics also spread to the United Kingdom where Tony Blair uses the threat of terrorism to give him a new moral authority. The repercussions of the Neo-Conservative strategy are also explored with an investigation of indefinitely-detained terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay, many allegedly taken on the word of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance without actual investigation on the part of the United States military, and other forms of “preemption” against non-existent and unlikely threats made simply on the grounds that the parties involved could later become a threat. Curtis also makes a specific attempt to allay fears of a dirty bomb attack, and concludes by reassuring viewers that politicians will eventually have to concede that some threats are exaggerated and others altogether devoid of reality. “In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power.”

Said Qutb (rechts), de ‘geestelijk vader’ van de moderne radicale islamistische beweging en belangrijke inspiratiebron voor Bin Laden en Ayman al Zawahiri, in Amerika (Colorado), jaren veertig

 Ayman al-Zawahiri, begin jaren zeventig

De Bin Laden familie in Stockholm in 1971. Tweede van rechts: de veertienjarige Osama.

foto van een Amerikaanse soldaat in Afghanistan (bron: http://www.demorgen.be/dm/nl/8056/Foto/photoalbum/detail/1087714/803005/87/De-oorlog-in-Afghanistan-deel-3.dhtml )

Ander materiaal dat om verschillende redenen de moeite van het bekijken waard is (van de meest overtrokken complottheorieën, tot buitengewoon zinnige bijdragen):

Loose Change: (de bekendste complotfilm over 9/11)

Zembla: Het Complot van 11 september  (een zinnige weerlegging van vooral Loose Change)

9/11 Press for Truth (een hele zinvolle documentaire, vooral een verslag van een groepje nabestaanden van 9/11 die kritische vragen zijn gaan stellen)

Tegenlicht: De Ijzeren Driehoek (over de belangenverstrengeling van de internationale wapenhandel en de politiek en wie er van de War on Terror profiteert. Vooral gericht op de duistere Carlylegroup. Zeer degelijk)

Tegenlicht: De Berg (over wat de drijfveren van de moslimfundamentalisten zijn. Met oa Karen Armstrong, Benjamin Barber, Manuel Castells, Khozh-Ahmed Noukhaev en Mansour Jachimczyk)

Tegenlicht: De Impact; over de betekenis van 9/11 (met Lawrence Wilkerson, Paul Bremer III en Francis Fukuyama over de betekenis van 9/11, tien jaar later)

Fahrenheit 911 (de grote klassieker van Michael Moore. Bijna alle bovenstaande thema’s komen aan bod, zij het dat het minder degelijk en vooral op een polemische- en soms heel geestige- manier wordt gebracht)

Jason Burke: The 9/11 Wars Een buitengewoon interessante korte voordracht van onderzoeksjournalist Jason Burke (‘The Observer’), over tien jaar 9/11 (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). Burke heeft meermaals betoogd dat al-Qaeda eerder een constructie, een mythe, is, dan een daadwerkelijk bestaande organisatie of netwerk.

Ook de Nederlandse publieke omroep stond stil bij tien jaar na 9/11. Bekijk hier de serie 9.11 de dag die de wereld veranderde

Belangrijke primaire bronnen:

The Project for a New American Century Belangrijkste site van de Neo-conservatieven

Sayyid Qutb, Milestones/Ma’alim fi’l-tareeq/معالم في الطريق Sayyid Qutbs belangrijkste geschrift uit 1965 online (Engels). Milestones is een van de belangrijkste manifesten van de milante islamistische beweging en inspiratiebron voor bijv. Bin Laden

Over de (in)directe uitvloeisels van 9/11 en ‘The War on Terror’:

The Road to Guantanamo (een onthutsende documentaire over het lot van drie Britse Moslims die onschuldig vastzaten op Guantanamo Bay

Big Storm; the Lynndie England Story Huiveringwekkende documentaire van Twan Huys (2005) over de daders achter het Abu Ghraib schandaal (Engelstalige versie)

No End in Sight  (over het rampzalige beleid van Amerika, na de invasie van Irak)

En last but not least de geweldige serie ‘De Vloek van Osama’, over tien jaar 9/11, van de Belgische journalist Rudi Vranckx (VRT):

Enkele literatuursuggesties (verre van volledig):

  • Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 2000 (in het Nederlands: De Strijd om God. Een geschiedenis van het fundamentalisme, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2005)
  • Benjamin Barber (die recent nogal in opspraak is geraakt, omdat hij zich zou hebben laten betalen door Qadhafi  en zitting had in de denktank van Saif Qadhafi, ‘The Monitor Group’, zie hier– dit doet mijns inziens echter niets af aan de waarde van dit werk, FS), Jihad versus Mc World; Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy, Balantine books, New York, 2001 (oorspr. 1995)
  • Jason Burke,  Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, IB Tauris, Londen, 2003
  • Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation; The Conquest of the Middle East, Londen, 2005 (in het Nederlands:  De grote beschavingsoorlog ; de Verovering van het Midden-Oosten, Ambo, 2005)
  • Seymour M. Hersh, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, Haper Collins, New York, 2004 (Nederlands: Bevel van hogerhand; de weg van 11 september tot het Abu Ghraib-Schandaal, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2004)
  • Gilles Kepel, The roots of radical Islam, Saqi Books,  London,  2005
  • Craig Unger, House of Bush House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties. Gibson Square Books, New York, 2004 (Nederlands: De Familie Bush en het Huis van Saud; de verborgen betrekkingen tussen de twee machtigste dynastieën ter wereld, Mets & Schilt, Amsterdam, 2004)

Update april 2012: The 9/11 Decade – The Clash of Civilizations? (documentaire Al Jazeera) Grote aanrader

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Nedim Kufi en Ahmed Mater; twee bijzondere kunstenaars uit de Arabische wereld nu in Amsterdam – نديم الكوفي وأحمد ماطر

            

links: Nedim Kufi, News, bedrukt papier op houten latten (detail), 2010 (foto Floris Schreve)
rechts: Ahmed Mater, Waqf Illumination III , Gold Leaf, Tea, Pomegranate, Crystals, Dupont Chinese ink & offset X-Ray film print on paper (detail), 2009

Een weerzien met een oude bekende en een nieuwe ontmoeting

Nedim Kufi en Ahmed Mater; twee toonaangevende en vernieuwende kunstenaars uit de Arabische wereld, nu te zien in Amsterdam

نديم الكوفي وأحمد ماطر

Vanaf 21 mei is er in Amsterdam een bijzondere tentoonstelling te bewonderen, van een aantal vooraanstaande kunstenaars uit het Midden Oosten. Samensteller is Robert Kluijver, die sinds de afgelopen jaren zeer actief is geweest op het gebied van kunst uit het Midden Oosten. Ik geef hier de details:

http://www.baarsprojects.com/index.html

Tot zover de omschrijving van de tentoonstelling. Ik kan trouwens de gehele expositie van harte aanbevelen, er is veel interessant werk te zien. In dit verband wil ik mij richten op twee van de deelnemende kunstenaars, Nedim Kufi en Ahmed Mater. Ik zal ook ingaan op eerder en ander werk, dat niet op deze tentoonstelling is te zien. De anderen, de kunstenaars Rana Begum, Abdulnasser Gharem, Susan Hefuna en Shahzia Sikander bewaar ik wellicht voor een andere gelegenheid.

Nedim Kufi – نديم الكوفي

Nedim Kufi, afkomstig uit Irak, is een van de kunstenaars die ik nog ken van mijn scriptie-onderzoek. Ook in latere artikelen (zoals hier en hier ) heb ik aandacht aan hem besteed. Ook is hij een keer uitgebreid door de NRC geïnterviewd, voor een artikel dat grotendeels over mijn onderzoek naar kunstenaars uit Irak in Nederland ging, zie hier op dit blog. Een tijdje was hij wat uit mijn netwerk verdwenen, al volgde ik hem wel op afstand, vooral via internet. Hoewel hij betrekkelijk weinig in Nederland heeft geëxposeerd is vooral in het buitenland zijn ster steeds meer gaan rijzen. Ook zijn werk heeft in de afgelopen tijd een indrukwekkende ontwikkeling doorgemaakt.

Nedim Kufi, die in het verleden ook bekend stond onder de namen Nedim Muhsen of Nedim El Chelaby, werd in 1962 geboren in Bagdad. Hij studeerde begin jaren tachtig aan de kunstacademie in Bagdad bij de beroemde kunstenaars Ismail Fattah al-Turk (beeldhouwkunst/keramiek) en grafische technieken bij Rafa al-Nasiri. Over zijn tijd aan de academie verklaarde hij het volgende:

‘I applied to the Institute of Fine Arts Baghdad, I was excited, and anxious at the same time about the racist oppression of the Baath Party. While learning and practicing my art, that was also an unpleasant period of my life. You cannot imagine, great depression, no freedom, no oxygen at all’

 Na zijn academietijd werd Kufi direct naar het front gestuurd om als soldaat te dienen in de oorlog tegen Iran. Kufi:

‘Although I felt very fortunate to have had art as an alternative companion, sketching up the way I lived in one notebook, it’s also important to include here my emotions. I cannot describe at this moment how much sorrow I carried. I graduated after five years and it was then compulsory for me to become a soldier. Imagine that, during the war with Iran: a black comedy. Counting time until the sun rises and gains in intensity, suddenly one day on 08.08.1988 it was proclaimed that the war was over. Oh my God. I felt I could fly. I needed to make a big difference in my life after this war. But how? How do I escape? I felt fenced into the country. The dream of moving abroad infiltrated my mind every single moment. All of that was a dark layer’.

Uiteindelijk lukte het Kufi om Irak te ontvluchten en na een bizarre omzwerving (over zelfs meerdere continenten) kon hij zich in Nederland vestigen. Sinds die tijd woont en werkt hij in Amersfoort. Ook volgde hij hier nog een opleiding grafische vormgeving aan de Hoge School voor de Kunsten in Utrecht.

Nedim Kufi, Brainwash; Object topical Iraqi, installatie/ready-made, Aleppo-zeep en aluinsteen, 1999

Waarin Kufi zich al vanaf eind jaren negentig van de meeste van zijn in Nederland wonende Iraakse collega’s onderscheidde was het sterke conceptuele karakter van zijn werk. Een van de meest sprekende werken uit die tijd is zijn readymade Brainwah; object toppical Iraqi uit 2001. Te zien is een blokje Aleppo-zeep en een stukje aluinsteen (een soort puimsteen), attributen die in het Midden Oosten tot de vaste bad- assecoires  behoren. Alleen doet de vorm van de steen ook denken aan een hersenkwab. Het is de combinatie van de objecten en de titel die het werk een mogelijke betekenis geven. Dit soort dubbelzinnigheden zijn typerend voor het werk van Kufi.

Kufi eerder over dit werk in NRC Handelsblad in 2003 (zie ook op dit blog ): ‘Gewassen hersenen worden van steen – ze slibben dicht, er kan niets meer in’

Nedim Kufi, Eyes everywhere, krijt en potlood op papier, 1999

Een vergelijkbare associatie roept de tekening Eyes everywhere op. Te zien is weer een vorm die sterk doet denken aan een menselijk brein. Alleen is er met potlood op verschillende plaatsen telkens weer hetzelfde tekentje  aangebracht. Het gaat hier om de Arabische letter  ع  (‘ayn), wat ‘oog’ betekent (عين). Het gegeven van ‘overal ogen’, al dan niet ingebeeld, is ook weer een teken waarmee je verschillende kanten op kunt.

Een andere readymade uit dezelfde periode is een enveloppe. Kufi heeft dit werk de titel Brainwash II gegeven. Wellicht gaat het hier om een uit Irak verzonden brief, gericht aan Kufi en gestuurd naar een adres in Borculo (wellicht nog de vluchtelingenopvang). De inhoud van de enveloppe laat zich raden, maar Kufi geeft hier wel een aanwijzing in welke richting wij het moeten zoeken.

Nedim Kufi, Brainwash II, readymade, 1999

Een zelfde soort ironie blijkt ook uit verschillende korte tekstjes, die Kufi een aantal jaren terug op zijn website publiceerde. Hier een passage uit ‘The defenition of Cool’:

 ‘How do I describe the word C O O L? How come? It’s hard to answer this

question in a couple of pages. But one thing could be very helpful, and that

is everybody nowadays almost says (cool), obviously as an immediate

expression. No need to make the idea of cool explicit any more. It’s an

attitude of this age, a new common language used with the meaning of

superiority and high quality. Yes it has a magic power when it touches

people, I don’t know really! Is it so cool? Is it so attractive? Is it a bit sharp?

Is it too glossy? Or could it be too perfect? It’s logical if life had totally

changed, from age to age (groovy) transformed into (cool) deep into

Internet TITLES mostly extended to (cool) to be saleable items.’

 

Vervolgens komt hij met een heleboel voorbeelden, zoals:

 

‘Getting the best model of mobile telephone with special extra function is so cool, Dancing

the whole Saturday night is cool too, Vacation in IBIZA is extremely cool,

Getting your own domain name in www is so cool, Bombing here and there

is very cool, American action movies are so cool, If you win a million is real

cool, If you get a USA passport is cool,’

 

enz.

 

Hoewel de tragiek nooit ver weg is, heeft Kufi altijd oog voor het absurde en is zijn werk zeker niet gespeend van enige humor.

  

Nedim Kufi, ‘Habibi-project’ ( حبيبي = ‘Habibi’) , Amersfoort, 2009

Kufi zet alle mogelijke materialen zoals kauwgum, rozenblaadjes of zeep. In mijn gesprek met Kufi uit 2001 sprak hij dan ook van ‘junk art’. Tegelijkertijd is hij ook bijzonder bedreven in alle mogelijke grafische technieken, tot en met allerlei computeranimaties. Zie bijvoorbeeld zijn Habibi-project dat hij in 2009 in Amersfoort realiseerde, samen met de dichter Gerard Beentjes. ‘Habibi’ betekent overigens ‘mijn liefje’ in het Arabisch. (zie http://www.deweekkrant.nl/files/pdfarchief/AB/20090708/NUC_ANU-1-07_090708_1.pdf )

In zijn recentere werk ontpopt Kufi zich tot een soort alchemist. Aan de Libanese Dayly Star vertelde Kufi dat hij zich opeens een vriend van zijn vader uit zijn kindertijd herinnerde, die werkte als traditionele ‘attar’ (alchemist).  Kufi hierover:

 “If we say art is a profession only, then it is not enough for me. I mean, I know art is a profession but it has to be more than that. I have to find in art a temple, a ritual, spiritual behavior. So in general, I behave in art as an attar to feel comfortable and complete. From that moment, I feel very much settled.”

 

Nedim Kufi, Milk, honey, ink and soil, mixed media/installatie (New York, The Phatory Garden of Eden), 2003

Het gegeven van de alchemist lijkt bijna letterlijk te worden in een kleine installatie uit 2003, die Kufi in New York exposeerde (zie bovenstaande afbeelding) Maar ook andere in werken (zie de voorbeelden hiervoor) blijkt in Kufi zich een alchemist, die met ogenschijnlijk waardeloze materialen, of alledaagse beelden, onverwachte schoonheid kan creëren. Kufi is dat in de afgelopen jaren tot en met nu blijven doen, zie de hieronder getoonde voorbeelden waarin hij onder meer werkt met wegwerpmateriaal als zeep en kauwgum. Zie overigens ook dit boeiende interview met Kufi door zijn collega-kunstenaar Ali Mandalawi in al-Sharq al-Awsat in het Arabisch. Daar gaat Kufi uitgebreid in op ‘zijn rol als alchemist’. Kufi zegt ondermeer, dat hij, toen hij in New York exposeerde (zie bovenstaande afbeelding), meermalen de vraag kreeg toegeworpen: ‘Ben u kunstenaar of chemicus?’ Kufi antwoordt dat hij zich als kunstenaar sterk kan identificeren met de traditionele ‘attar’ (of chemicus). Zijn atelier is zijn laboratorium en hij ziet voor de kunst een belangrijke taak weggelegd. Net als de traditionele attar moet de kunstenaar ook het geweten van de samenleving zijn, die het ‘besturingssysteem’ van de maatschappij de juiste richting wijst (hij maakt de vergelijking met het besturingssysteem van een computer). Verder zegt hij in het interview dat het hem opviel dat, itt in Nederland, hem in Amerika vaker werd gevraagd ‘Waar gaat u naartoe?’, dan ‘Waar komt u vandaan?’ Voor hem is de eerste vraag veel wezenlijker dan de tweede. 

Een tijd lang heeft Kufi ook op internet een soort dagboek bijgehouden, zijn ‘Daftar Project’ (‘Daftar’ betekent ‘schrift’, of ‘notitieboek’  in het Arabisch). Helaas staat dat niet meer online, maar ik geef hieronder het een en ander aan documentatie en afbeeldingen. De twee beelden waarmee hij zijn ‘dagboek’ introduceert en de toeschouwer binnenleidt zijn haast iconisch; een waarschuwing dat het breekbaar is, maar wel met een uitgestoken hand.

 

http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/node_60/2006/node_577/photos/kufi_1/

http://web.me.com/southproject/south/Daftar.html

Drie bovenstaande afbeeldingen: Nedim Kufi, Daftar, online schetsboek/dagboek, 2004-2005

Nedim Kufi, bijdrage aan Dafatir (‘Iraqi Notebook project’), zeventien Iraakse kunstenaars wereldwijd, coördinatie Nada Shabout (University of North Texas), 2006. Zie hier de verschillende bijdragen en hier wat achtergrondinformatie

In 2006 participeerde Kufi in het zg Dafatir-project, een initiatief van de Amerikaanse Iraakse Nada Shabout, hoogleraar hedendaagse kunst van het Midden Oosten aan de Universiteit van North Texas. Zeventien Iraakse kunstenaars, verspreid van over de hele wereld, namen hieraan deel, waaronder grote namen van de iets oudere generatie als Dhia Azzawi, Rafa al-Nasiri en Hanna Mal Allah, maar ook Kufi’s generatie-genoten als Mohamed al-Shammerey. De meeste kunstenaars excelleerden in hun persoonlijke handschrift op miniatuurformaat. De vaak beeldschone resultaten van dit project zijn hier te bekijken. Kufi’s bijdrage was, geheel in zijn stijl, conceptueel en minimalistisch en behoeft eigenlijk geen toelichting, zie bovenstaande afbeelding.

 

Nedim Kufi, The Moon follows us, gemengde technieken op doek, 2008  (Sultan Gallery, Kuwayt, zie hier voor meer achtergronden)

“On a summers day traveling from Baghdad to Kufa on a visit to relatives the view shifted along our course seducing us. I remember sleeping deeply during this two hour trip, a long time for a child of six. In between sleep I caught sight of the view through the car window; the moon centered in an ecstatic sky. The speeding car followed it through the dark and desolate desert. I was amazed that whenever the car stopped or slowed down so did the moon. It entered my mind freely stirring my astonishment and curiosity, this phenomena, and I asked my father “Oh father…the moon follows us, why is this?” I wished to impress my father with the depth of this phenomenological thought! He smiled but didn’t offer any words in reply. It was as if he had known the answer at a time past, but no longer. The question remained silently with me through out the long night spent with my relatives till we went onto the roof of the house to sleep. There was the moon again reclining above and seeming to own the sky here as it did in Baghdad. With a new sense of clarity I said to my father “this proves my theory, look just as I told you…the moon follows us! Content I fell asleep with a smile… unfortunately the heads of the households seemed only to speak about life’s problems…not paying attention to the moon.

And here I am, unexpectedly passing through the fortieth year of my life, still in a state of surprise. When I try and unravel the darkness and find order in the Dutch sky Baghdad’s moon does not provide sense though it follows me yet softening my estranged and desolate path.” Van  http://www.infocusdialogue.com/interviews/nedim-kufi/

Nedim Kufi, Soap and Silence, zeep en tekstiel op paneel, 2008

Nedim Kufi, Rooh/Soul  (روح  = ziel), rode zeep op doek, 2010

Nedim Kufi, Bore, print op doek, 2009

Nedim Kufi, Nass (ناس = mensen), fotoprint op doek, 2010 (detail)

Nedim Kufi, 20 years later, installatie, 2010

 

Nedim Kufi, Home/Empty, digitale print, 2008

In Kufi’s meest recente werk keert het thema van zijn ballingschap weer sterk terug. Zie bijvoorbeeld zijn werk 20 years later, waarin hij een vliegticket van Amsterdam naar Baghrein sterk vergroot op doek heeft afgedrukt.

In een interview uit 2006 met Predrag Pajdic zette Kufi zijn verhouding met zijn geboorteland als volgt uiteen:

Pajdic: ‘I expect this ‘identity recycling’ to be the nucleus of your work. Is it?’

Kufi: ‘Yes, I totally agree with you. Identity and what’s beyond is the point. In terms of meanings modeling. I’m not sure yet whether I’m a pure Iraqi or not, but here I will try to figure out to my self at least how much of an Iraqi I am. Feeling like an alien is not an issue any more. Why? Because it started already, in the early dark time of being home in Baghdad in the ’80s and ’90s, and that badly consumed my soul. I was actually under the Baath Party occupation. Where ever I moved I found a checkpoint asking me for my papers. Me and the government. Me and the authority. Me and the dictatorship. We never trusted each other. Like a daily game between Tom and Jerry.
I still shake, if you can believe me, every time I find myself at any airport, or any police office. Even now I have a Dutch passport: the most acceptable one in the world. Look! and pay attention to the contrast: what I had and what I have today. I’m wondering, is identity an official paper? Is it a continuity in the family tree? Is it an army service duty? Is it the place of birth and death? Is it saying yes to what they decide for you? No! I reject all of those common thoughts and focus only on one. And then I may say: being satisfied on a piece of land where ever it is and sleeping deeply, peacefully there without any of nightmares. That is the real identity. According to my experience, there still is an ID conflict which automatically allows my identity to be recycled. From time to time the mirror of the past follows me but in front of me. It reflects clearly my memories. The sweet and bitter ones. And also it’s able to
observe, compare and manipulate the meaning of it. Trying to find a balance somehow. I used to find myself in betweens: imperfect existence. It has to be, one day, full identity. Art could be an ID. Even a good mother language as well. The identity recycling idea came to me while I was in New York City once.
In order to analyse this conflict, I put all my trust in the tongue and eyes of Iraqi kids. Through a visual essay about traveling between here in the Netherlands and the Middle East. My project aims are to update visual feedback of Iraqi kids (6-14 years). Since 1990 they hold at least double identity. My job is like a postman. Collecting and activating a kind of exchange between their stories. Thoughts and dreams in one historical document by video art’ (
http://www.infocusdialogue.com/interviews/nedim-kufi/ ).

Nedim Kufi, Home/Absense (foto Floris Schreve)

Nedim Kufi, News, installatie 2011 (foto Floris Schreve)

Zie ook een statement van dit jaar:

An Art that deletes the memory; 21 years later in exile

Sometimes I see myself as an author more than a visual artist, especially when I intensively think on theoretical level which is very different from visual practices I normally do. This happens when I’m outside my studio. This matter makes me always say that “intellect” is a substantial half of the creation of an image. As for the rest, it is some kind of a vision which goes beyond this world, a path to our soul and one important tool to translate our visual dreams. Day by day, it becomes certain and obvious that producing Art is extremely hard task. Seriously I could say here, after my long experience in the field, that a work of Art will get rid of its impurities then change into light. These kinds of things happen in special times of inspiration. They make my many remarks on papers, sketches and failed documents go to the recycle bin, new pure papier-mâché after cooking, as if we are cooking our thoughts. Yes I assume and think that we are in a virtual kitchen. Let me give you my conclusion: We are recycling our lives, words, forms and art, although we always deny this fact, all the way.

Nedim KUFI
Amsterdam | june 2011

In zijn ‘Home/Absence’ serie (2008-2010) is het gegeven van ballingschap duidelijk aanwezig. In ieder werk uit deze reeks keert steeds hetzelfde motief terug. Aan de linkerkant is steeds een (bewerkte) foto weergegeven uit Kufi’s jeugd, waar hij zelf op staat. Aan de rechterkant is dezelfde foto weergeven maar dan gemanipuleerd en heeft Kufi zichzelf weggetoucheerd. Saeb Eigner, in zijn grote overzichtswerk Art of the Middle East (2010) over deze serie:

‘Iraqi artists have reacted to the suffering of their compatriots with varying degrees of directness. Nedim Kufi has used actual photographs as his startingpoint, manipulating them in order to convey the related themes of bloodshed and loss. Based on a photograph taken more than forty years ago, the pair of canvasses here is suggestive  rather than explicit, subtly addressing the theme of innocence betrayed’

Saeb Eigner, Art of the Middle East; Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran,  Merell, Londen/New York, 2010, p. 173

Op de tentoonstelling in het Willem Baars Project is een van zijnHome/Empty werken te zien, samen met een kleine installatie News, bestaande uit houten latten, waarin fragmenten van artikelen uit Arabische kranten zijn weergeven (zie afb.)

Nedim Kufi woont en werkt in Amersfoort, maar exposeert voornamelijk in de Arabische wereld.

 

 Kufi’s werk in het Willem Baarsproject (foto Floris Schreve), links: Home/Absense (digitale print, 2010) en rechts: News (papier op houten latten, 2010)

werk van Ahmed Mater op de tentoonstelling in het Willem Baarsproject

Ahmed Mater – أحمد ماطر

Ahmed Mater al-Ziad Aseeri werd in  1979 geboren in Rijal Alma, in het Aseeri-gebied van Saoedi-Arabië. Op zijn negentiende ging hij geneeskunde studeren aan het Abha-College. Tegelijkertijd zette hij zijn eerste stappen op het pad van professioneel kunstenaar in het nabijgelegen al-Meftaha Arts Village, dat was gesticht door de Gouverneur van Aseer, ZKH Prins Khalid al-Faisal, zelf dichter en schilder, om de locale kunstscene te stimuleren.

Zijn werk kreeg voor het eerst internationale aandacht, toen Prins Charles van Engeland, in 2000 op bezoek bij Prins Khalid al-Faisal, kennismaakte met het werk van Mater. Doorslaggevend voor zijn loopbaan was echter een bezoek van de Britse kunstenaar Stephen Stapleton in 2003. Stapleton over zijn ontmoeting:

‘I First met Ahmed at the al-Mefthaha Arts Village in March 2003. He was sitting in the corner of his studio in a white. Ankle-length, painted thawb (long shirt), and was surrounded by a sprawling collection of medical paraphernalia. X-rays, anatomical illustrations and prescription receipts jostled for space ammangst bottles of calligraphy ink, spray paint cans and books on Islamic art.

He told me how his ‘double’ life as a doctor and artist had awakened in him a creative energy and motivation to explore humanity, in an era of religious, political and cultural turmoil. With great excitement he showed me his latest paintings; expressive layers of rich colour painted onto human X-rays, marked with religious symbols and hand written medical notes. “An anatomy of faith in the 21st century”, is how he described them’ (In Stephen Stapleton (ed.), with contributions of Venetia Porter, Ashraf Fayadh, Aarnout Helb, ao, Ahmed Mater, Booth-Clibborn Productions, Abha/London 2010, p. 27)

Stapleton bracht Ahmed Mater ook in contact met Venetia Porter, conservator van Word into Art, de permanente tentoonstelling van hedendaagse kunst uit de islamitische wereld in het British Museum. Zij verwierf meteen X Ray (2003, zie onderstaande afbeelding) voor de collectie. Sinds die tijd kan het werk van  Ahmed Mater op een groeiende internationale belangstelling rekenen, met als voorlopig hoogtepunt zijn deelname aan de Biënnale van Venetië dit jaar, aan de tentoonstelling The Future of a Promise , waarin een aantal van de meest prominente kunstenaars van de Arabische wereld van dit moment participeren. 

Ahmed Mater, X Ray, Mixed media and x-ray film, 2003 (collectie Word into Art, British Museum), zie http://blog.ahmedmater.com/?p=76

Gedurende de afgelopen tien jaar heeft Mater een indrukwekkend oeuvre ontwikkeld, waarin hij zich voornamelijk heeft geconcentreerd op vier verschillende thema’s (al zijn er sinds kort een paar bijgekomen, waar ik hierna nog wat aandacht aan zal besteden). Deze zijn Illumination, Magnetism, Evolution of Man en Yellow Cow . In dit verband wil ik deze vier  thema’s een voor een behandelen, waarbij ik een aantal duidelijke voorbeelden zal laten zien.

Allereerst zijn Illuminations, zijn ‘X-rays’. Ahmed Mater is tot op de dag van vandaag ook werkzaam als arts in een ziekenhuis in Abha.  De directe inspiratie haalt hij dan ook uit deze omgeving. Maar het gaat er natuurlijk om wat hij met deze röntgenfoto’s doet. Deze zijn verwerkt in complexe composities, rijk gelardeerd met islamitische ornamenten en symbolen, en soms overladen met gekalligrafeerde teksten.

Aan Venetia Porter lichtte Mater het volgende toe: ‘(this painting) explores the confusion in the identity of mankind in the contemporary world. The X-ray, sitting on top of a deep, layered background of medical text and expressive paint, represents an objective view of the individual, chosen to provoke a familiar response…My approach as a doctor has been evidence based and influenced by a direct experience of the world’ (zie http://ahmedmater.com/artwork/illuminations/resume/venetia-porter-/ ). Juist dat ‘evidence based art’ is voor Mater een belangrijk punt, we zullen het nog tegenkomen bij zijn andere werken.

Ahmed Mater, Illumination I & II, Gold Leaf, Tea, Pomegranate, Dupont Chinese ink & offset X-Ray film print on paper. Let op het handschrift boven en onder beide werken. Hier staat in het Arabisch وقف  (‘waqf’= ‘charity’)

Over de hier getoonde Illuminations I & II: ‘They are laid out in exactly the same way as the beginning of a religious text. I have also added the word waqf beneath each. This means charity. Traditionally in religious texts you have two pages, symmetrical in design, containing abstract design. The craftsmen would always spend a great deal of time on these opening pages: they’re the first thing you see. Instead of a traditional geometry I have printed two facing X-ray images of human torsos. I prepared the paper using tea, pomegranate, coffee and other materials traditionally used on these kinds of pages. By using them you ensure that when you come to paint onto the paper it will have an extraordinary luminous quality – the paint will truly shine. And that’ what I want to do with this piece, to illuminate. I am giving light. It’s about two humans in conversation. Us and them, and how this encounter gives light. Dar a luz. So many religions around the world share this concept of giving light, not darkness. It is one religious idea that has reached mankind through many different windows.’ ( http://ahmedmater.com/artwork/illuminations/resume/venetia-porter-/ )

Zijn latere Illuminations zijn complexer en weelderiger van compositie. Mater doet hier het begrip ‘illuminatie’ in de zin van ‘boekverluchtingen’ ruimschoots eer aan. Tegelijkertijd zou je zijn deze verluchtingen kunnen opvatten als een artistieke synthese tussen traditie en moderniteit, of als je wilt, tussen religie en wetenschap.

 

   

Ahmed Mater, Waqf Illumination III , Gold Leaf, Tea, Pomegranate, Crystals, Dupont Chinese ink & offset X-Ray film print on paper, 2009. Voor vergrote afbeelding en meer details, klik hier

 Ahmed Mater, X-Ray Calligpaphy, offsetprint, 2005

Bij Magnetism, zijn tweede thema is eveneens sprake van een soort synthese tussen wetenschap en religie, wellicht nog uitgesprokener dan in zijn Illuminations. Munten zijn X Rays uit in een weelderige vormentaal, zijn magnetisme-reeks is van een verpletterende eenvoud. Eigenlijk is het een simpele trouvaille, waarin met een eenvoudige handeling een heleboel gezegd wordt.

Het enige wat Mater doet is het plaatsen van een magneetblokje in een hoopje ijzervijlsel, met de negatieve pool naar beneden. Het gevolg is dat het ijzervijlsel wordt afgestoten en in een cirkelvormige ring in een regelmatig patroon (vanwege de aantrekkingskracht van de positieve pool aan de bovenkant) blijft liggen. Deze simpele handeling levert de volgende bijna archetypische beelden op (zie onderstaande afbeeldingen): 

    

     

Het beeld van de vierkanten of rechthoekige magneet, omringd met een cirkel van metaalgruis, roept natuurlijk ook de associatie op met de Kaäba in Mekka, het hart van de islam. Tim Mackintosh-Smith over deze trouvaille (want dat is het eigenlijk):

‘Al-Bayt al-‘Atiq, the Ancient House, to give the Ka’bah another of its names, is ancient – indeed archetypal – in more than one way. The cube is the primary building-block, and the most basic form of a built structure. And the Cube, the Ka’bah, is also Bayt Allah, the House of the One God: it was built by Abraham, the first monotheist, or in some accounts by the first man, Adam. Its site may be more ancient still: ‘According to some traditions,’ the thirteenth-century geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi wrote, ‘the first thing God created on earth was the site of the Ka’bah. He then spread out the earth from beneath this place. Thus it is the navel of the earth and the mid-point of this lower world and the mother of villages.’ The circumambulation of the pilgrims, Yaqut goes on to explain on the authority of earlier scholars, is the earthly equivalent of the angels’ circling the heavenly throne of God, seeking His pleasure after they had incurred His wrath. To this day, and beyond, the Ka’bah is a focal point of atonement and expiation; in the Qur’anic phrase, ‘a place of resort for mankind and a place of safety’.

Ahmed Mater’s Magnetism, however, gives us more than simple simulacra of that Ancient House of God. His counterpoint of square and circle, whorl and cube, of black and white, light and dark, places the primal elements of form and tone in dynamic equipoise. And there is another dynamic and harmonious opposition implicit in both magnetism and pilgrimage – that of attraction and repulsion. The Ka’bah is magnet and centrifuge: going away, going back home, is the last rite of pilgrimage. There is, too, a lexical parallel: the Arabic word for ‘to attract’, jadhaba, can also on occasion signify its opposite, ‘to repel’. (‘In Arabic, everything means itself, its opposite, and a camel,’ somebody once said; not to be taken literally, of course, although the number of self-contradictory entries in the dictionary is surprising.) And yet all this inbuilt contrariness is not so strange: ‘Without contraries,’ as William Blake explained, ‘there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion . . . are necessary to human existence.’ (http://ahmedmater.com/artwork/magnetism/fre/tim-mackintosh-smith/ )

In zijn derde thema, ‘Evolution of Man’, waarin hij weer gebruik maakt van Röntgenfoto’s,  lijkt Mater zich wat politieker uit te spreken. We zien hier een aantal lichtbakken, waarin een reeks van figuren is weergegeven, die een geleidelijke ‘evolutie’ doormaken. Lezend van rechts naar links (gebruikelijk in het Arabisch) is er te zien hoe een benzinepomp zich langzaam ontwikkelt tot een man die zichzelf door het hoofd schiet (zie onderstaande afbeelding). In de tentoonstelling van het Willem Baarsproject is overigens een kleinere versie te zien, maar daar staat deze ‘evolutie’ van links naar rechts weergegeven- meer toegerust op een Europees publiek . Hoewel de cyclus ook beide kanten opgaat; olie kan uiteindelijk de mens doden, maar als de mens zichzelf vernietigd heeft, wordt hij uiteindelijk olie (fossiele brandstof).

Ahmed Mater, Evolution of Man, installatie, Biënnale van Cairo, 2008

Ahmed al Omran, journalist en een van de bekendste Saudische bloggers (zie hier zijn site) heeft een buitengewoon interessant commentaar geschreven op deze reeks van Mater. Ik geeft het hier integraal weer (http://ahmedmater.com/artwork/evolution-of-man/responses/ahmed-al-omran/ ):

EVOLUTION OF MAN

Saudis, by and large, do not believe in the theory of evolution. Like other conservative, religious societies, Saudis have firmly rejected Darwin’s theory on the basis that human beings are perfect, state-of-the-art creations of God, not the result of some natural process. Ahmed Mater is a doctor by training. He believes in evolution. But for him, evolution does not necessarily mean survival of the fittest. Sometimes, evolution can lead to one’s demise.

Saudi Arabia, founded in 1932, was a poor country with scarce natural resources. Then in 1938 oil was discovered in its deserts, and ten years later production was up to full capacity.

Petrodollars flooded the Kingdom, transforming the face of its land and giving Saudi a great deal of leverage with the international community. Interestingly, the origin of oil is connected to the theory of evolution. Oil is derived from ancient organic matter; the remains of creatures that have not survived the planet’s biological and geological changes.

Saudi Arabia did not only use petrodollars to fuel its rapid development. Vast amounts of the same money were also used to promote and spread the Saudi ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam, also known as Wahhabism. But most Saudis reject this term because they believe they are simply practicing Islam in its purest form, and also because they think the term has been used unfairly to slander their religion and their country.

Whether they agree with the term or not probably matters little now, because some of the extremist ideas that originated in Saudi have in recent years come to shake the world with terror.

Mater’s Evolution of Man brings to my mind the boom and bust economic cycle – but with a Saudi twist. The oil money used to build the Kingdom’s cities and modernise the infrastructure was seldom used to develop minds or modernise their way of thinking. Allowing the clergy to control education and media paved the way for the rise of extremism, which eventually resulted in terrorist attacks outside and inside the country, including attempts to bomb vital Saudi oil production facilities.

What I like about Mater’s use of X-rays is how they turn everything into bare-bone structures; you can go under the skin, explore the essence behind the facade. I also like how the piece is so full of energy; the sequence, the movement, the seamlessness, the lack of a starting or end point. All of this produces a lively interaction between the viewer and the artwork.

This richness, however, does not always manage to displace some of the dark thoughts that crossed my mind when I first saw the piece. True, I am cynical and pessimistic, but I think it goes beyond that; it comes from something within the work itself.

In our hungry world, greed is a sure way to an easy self-destruction. The constant desire for more is depleting whatever is left of our limited resources, not only the material ones but our emotional reserves as well. We spend a great deal of time acquiring everything we can get our hands on. To what end? During your lifetime on earth you can only consume so much. When death comes knocking at your door, such ‘consumer’ choices become meaningless. Do you get to choose how and when you die? Would it make any difference if you did?

You can choose how and when you die if you decide to kill yourself. Suicide is strongly prohibited by Islam but this, of course, does not stop some Muslims from killing themselves, which, although religiously frowned upon, is still a personal matter.

Except that sometimes it’s not. That is, when a suicide results in the death of many others. It is tragic, but that’s the world we live in today. The communication revolution which many hoped would foster understanding between different peoples, religions and ideologies has also allowed extremists to spread their messages of hatred and violence far and wide. We can’t blame technology – it’s merely a tool that can be used for good in the same way it can be used for evil.

In the end, it’s up to us, the people. It’s up to every single one of us. We have the right to live peacefully, and that’s why it’s our duty to be responsible, not reckless. It should be our mission to build, not destroy. It’s time to take matters into our own hands and reclaim this right. We can no longer afford to live in constant, nagging fear.

So let us start changing. Let us make the right choices. Let us choose life over death, peace over conflict and hope over fear. Let us do it now.

Ahmed Al-Omran

Riyadh

February 2010

Ahmed Mater, Evolution of Man, 2008. Een versie hiervan  is te zien op de tentoonstelling in het Willem Baarsproject.

Zie hier een animatie van Maters Evolution of Man:

Evolution of Man from Prognosis Art on Vimeo

Het vierde thema van Ahmed Mater is zijn Yellow Cow reeks. Deze serie is minstens zo pregnant als de voorgaande. Mater presenteert hier een virtuele productielijn in levensmiddelen, met de slogan ‘Ideologically Free Products’. Voor dit project voerde hij ook een performance uit waarin hij een koe beschilderde met gele safraanverf, zie onderstaand clipje:

Ahmed Mater, Yellow Cow, clipje nav de performance uit 2007, zie hier de registratie van de performance

Yellow Cow bestaat verder uit een verzameling ‘reclamecampagnes’ voor ‘zuivelproducten’, zie de onderstaande afbeeldingen. Yoghurt, melk, allerlei kaasjes en roomboter, alles wordt aangeprezen in de stijl van de smeerkaasjes van ‘La Vache qui Rit’,  Zie het bijbehorende logo, waar alleen de traditionele koebel is vervangen door een oorringetje met een klein klokje (wellicht als een alternatief voor het beruchte gele oormerk?). In de monografie van Mater (Stephen Stapleton (ed.), Ahmed Mater, Booth-Clibborn Productions, Abha/London 2010 ) zijn overigens ook een paar stickervellen toegevoegd, met echte reclamestickers.

     

http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2008/ahmed_mater/photos/09

Aarnout Helb van het Greenbox Museum voor hedendaagse Saudische kunst in Amsterdam legt mijns inziens terecht een verband met het Gouden Kalf, een Bijbels gegeven dat ook op meer plaatsen in de Koran voorkomt, zoals bijvoorbeeld in Koran 7:148 (zie op http://www.bijbelenkoran.nl/verhaal.php?lIntEntityId=10 ). Helb:

‘Ahmed Mater has made a rich work of art; a non-commercial dairy shop full of real ideas that may help sustain humanity for a century as much as yoghurt, milk, butter and cheese do for a day. Yellow Cow products (2007) came to my attention in the Netherlands while I was reading the Qur’an in search of something that might relate to the visual arts. The story that first caught my attention was about this odd-coloured cow which God instructed Moses’ people to sacrifice. The story acknowledges this simple fact: humans, whether they live in the vicinity of Mecca or in Amsterdam, have eyes as well as ears and may take pleasure in what they see—even attach themselves to a pleasantly-coloured cow or a handsome car—but in the end, they will have an overriding wish to dwell in the company of truth.

Ahmed believes the people in this story were a bit slow finding the truth. It took them a while to decide on sacrifice, and they asked too many questions about the cow, increasing their demands on God as we increase our demands on the material world in consumer societies. But I wonder, were the people demanding to know more so different from a doctor in search of evidence for a true diagnosis?

Not all art is about truth. Yellow Cow products is. Ahmed Mater is. His relationship with truth will be attributed by some to his profession as a medical doctor practicing ‘evidence-based medicine’ and to his heritage as a Muslim. But he might have just been one of those boys who flip stories around to see if their mirror image reflects the truth as well. And smiles

So, I understand Ahmed took a childhood story from his mosque and renewed it, gave it attention anew by wondering what would have happened if the cow had not been sacrificed. From the artwork we can assume the cow would have lived on to become a range of consumer products. By choosing to be a change-manager in a dairy shop, Ahmed
turns the ‘arrogant’ consumer products industry to his advantage by reminding us of the original story. For this he returned to the farm with a bucket of paint, bringing a real yellow cow to life and to the imagination. This is a magnificent act of love allowed only to artists: painting your own evidence in support of the truth’. (http://ahmedmater.com/artwork/yellow-cow/responses/aarnout-helb-greenbox-museum/ )

Tot zover de vier thema’s waarmee Ahmed Mater de laatste jaren heeft gewerkt. Sinds vrij recent zijn er een aantal bijgekomen. Ik wil er hier twee aanstippen. Het gaat hier om oa werk dat hij presenteerde op de Biënnale van Venetië van dit jaar, in de tentoonstelling A Future of a Promise.

Allereerst presenteerde hij daar de Cowboycode. Ik geef hier de tekst weer:

1.A cowboy never takes unfair advantage – even of an enemy.
2.A cowboy never betrays a trust. He never goes back on his word.
3.A cowboy always tells the truth.
4.A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks, and animals.
5.A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.
6.A cowboy is always helpful when someone is in trouble.
7.A cowboy is always a good worker.
8.A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation’s laws.
9.A cowboy is clean about his person in thought, word, and deed.
10.A cowboy is a Patriot

Natuurlijk verwijst dit werk naar de ‘Amerikaanse waarden’ die de Verenigde Staten wereldwijd beweren uit te dragen (of op te leggen), zeker in het Midden Oosten. Alleen, als je het zo bij elkaar ziet is het bijna zo lachewekkend, dat de hypocrisie van deze ‘Amerikaanse waarden’ wordt doorgeprikt.

Ahmed Mater, The Cowboy Code, op ‘The Future of a Promise’, Biënnale van Venetië, 2011 (foto Floris Schreve)

Op zowel The Future of a Promise, als op de tentoonstelling in het Willem Baars Project toont Mater een van zijn ‘antenna’s’ (zie onderstaande afbeelding). Mater in een statement over zijn ‘antennes’:

Antenna is a symbol and a metaphor for growing

up in Saudi Arabia. As children, we used to climb

up to the roofs of our houses and hold these

television antennas up to the sky.

We were trying to catch a signal from beyond the

nearby border with Yemen or Sudan; searching –

like so many of my generation in Saudi –

for music, for poetry, for a glimpse of a different

kind of life. I think this work can symbolise the

whole Arab world right now… searching for a

different kind of life through other stories and

other voices. This story says a lot about my life

and my art; I catch art from the story of my life,

I don’t know any other way.

Ahmed Mater

Ahmed Mater, Antenna, op ‘The Future of a Promise’, Biënnale van Venetië, 2011 (foto Floris Schreve)

Tot zover deze bespreking van het werk van Ahmed Mater. De tentoonstelling in Amsterdam, samengesteld door Robert Kluijver, met werk van Rana Begum, Abdulnasser Gharem, Susan Hefuna,  Nedim Kufi , Ahmed Mater en Shahzia Sikander wil ik van harte aanbevelen. Te zien tot 30 juli, Willem Baarsproject, Hoogte Kadijk 15 hs (zie voor info de website http://www.baarsprojects.com/index.html )

 

Floris Schreve

 فلوريس سحرافا

 

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De antenne van Ahmed Mater op de tentoonstelling. Daarachter het werk van Nedim Kufi. Links werk van Rana Begum en rechts van Abdulnasser Gharem (foto Floris Schreve)

Ahmed Mater, Evolution of Man en Yellow Cow (foto Floris Schreve)

Beknopt literatuuroverzicht en andere bronnen:

literatuur over (oa.) Nedim Kufi:

  • Saeb Eigner, Art of the Middle East; modern and contemporary art of the Arab World and Iran, Merrell, Londen/New York, 2010
  • Maysaloun Faraj (ed.), Strokes of genius; contemporary Iraqi art, Saqi Books, Londen, 2002 (zie hier een presentatie van de Strokes of Genius exhibition)
  • Robert Kluijver, Borders; contemporary Middle Eastern art and discourse, Gemak, The Hague, October 2007/ January 2009

Internet:

Op dit Blog:

literatuur over (oa.) Ahmed Mater:

  • Antony Downey & Lina Lazaar (ed.), The Future of a Promise, published on the occasion of the 54th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia, Ibraaz Publishing, Tunis, 2011.
  • Stephen Stapleton (ed.), with contributions of Venetia Porter, Ashraf Fayadh, Aarnout Helb, ao, Ahmed Mater, Booth-Clibborn Productions, Abha/London 2010
  • Stephen Stapleton (ed.), with contributions of Lulwah al-Homoud, Ahmed Mater al-Ziad Aseeri, Abdulnasser Gharem & Venitia Porter, Edge of Arabia; contemporary art of Saudi Arabia, Offscreen Education Programme, London, 2008

Internet:

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