Ai Weiwei (born 1956) China
Table with Two Legs (2004) antique table, reassembled using traditional joinery skills
Grapes (2008) re-assembled antique stools 92x172x153cm
Table with Beam (2008) Qing Dynasty table and beam 130x440x130cm
A In his repurposed furniture series, Ai again reimagines existing objects, in this case transforming decorative and utilitarian antiques into contemporary art objects, drawing attention to materials and craftsmanship. For “Grapes” (2010), a number of wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) have been rejoined by artisans into a spiky cluster—seats in, legs out—reaestheticizing objects that might be seen to have outlived their usefulness. “Table with Two Legs on the Wall” (2008) is a dramatic alteration of another Qing antique. Split in two and rejoined at a right angle, the tabletop is at cross-purposes with itself. Half of it functions as it originally did, being level with the floor. The other half, rising perpendicular to the first, its legs perched against the wall, now serves to keep the structure from toppling over. http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu
B There are several pieces in which Ai disassembles antique furniture only to reassemble it in non-functional ways intended to call attention to the beauty of traditional joinery and construction techniques, as in Grapes, an assemblage of three-legged stools.
Qing [Dynasty] woodworkers secured joints without nails or glue. In this piece and others, Ai evidences his respect for high-level craftsmanship. http://starr-review.blogspot.com.au
Ai Weiwei (b.1956) China
Sunflower Seeds (2010) one hundred million porcelain seeds, each individually hand-painted in the town of Jingdezhen by 1,600 Chinese artisans. The installation filled the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, London in 2010.
A Sunflower Seeds is the latest of a number of works that Ai has made using porcelain, one of China’s most prized exports. These have included replicas of vases in the style of various dynasties, dresses, pillars, oil spills and watermelons. Like those previous works, the sunflower seeds have all been produced in the city of Jingdezhen, which is famed for its production of Imperial porcelain. Each ceramic seed was individually hand-sculpted and hand-painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops. This combination of mass production and traditional craftsmanship invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geopolitics of cultural and economic exchange today.
For Ai, sunflower seeds – a common street snack shared by friends – carry personal associations with Mao Zedong’s brutal Cultural Revolution (1966–76). While individuals were stripped of personal freedom, propaganda images depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him. Yet Ai remembers the sharing of sunflower seeds as a gesture of human compassion, providing a space for pleasure, friendship and kindness during a time of extreme poverty, repression and uncertainty.
Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture that can be gazed upon from the Turbine Hall bridge, or viewed at close range. Each piece is a part of the whole, a poignant commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. There are over one hundred million seeds, five times the number of Beijing’s population and nearly a quarter of China’s internet users. The work seems to pose numerous questions. What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future? www.tate.org.uk
Watch The artist talks about freedom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-go2H9enz7Y
The artist speaks about his practice and the process of making Sunflower Seeds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PueYywpkJW8
also search @ http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org
Ai Weiwei (b.1956) China
Coca Cola Vase (2007)
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995)
Colored Vases (2007-10)
Painted Vases (2006) synthetic polymer paint on neolithic period ceramic
Dust to Dust (2009) ground up neolithic vase in glass jar
A Ai Weiwei’s works respond to China’s rich artistic heritage by reconfiguring objects such as Ming and Qing dynasty furniture, Han dynasty urns and Neolithic vases. He frequently incorporates acts of destruction and reconstruction in the creation of his work. Often his re-configured pieces are positioned in dramatic new situations where notions of value and authenticity are questioned.
Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) ceramics are admired for their refined lines, elegant proportions and the quality of their glazes. For the modern collector, the values and meanings attached to these objects are vested not only in aesthetic characteristics, but also in their unique cultural authority as evidence of one the greatest epochs in China’s long history.
In Painted vases (2006), Ai Weiwei has performed a radical act in transforming these traditionally monochromatic objects into a brightly coloured array.
He says of this action that it is ‘powerful only because someone thinks it’s powerful and invests value in the object’. The urns are valuable because the arbiters of taste and the art market have determined them so. In this work, the meaning and value of the urns is transformed and co-opted into a contemporary work that subverts and disrupts the prevailing value system to which it previously belonged.
B While studying at the Beijing Film Academy (1978–81) Ai Weiwei became one of the founding members of the Xing Xing (Stars) Group which championed freedom of thought and expression. Ai Weiwei moved to New York in 1981 where he immersed himself in modern and contemporary art. He was quickly defined as a neo-dadaist, because he critically addressed traditions and conventions of art and cultural stereotypes in a similar way to Marcel Duchamp’s provocative works which scandalised the art world in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Ai Weiwei’s works respond to China’s rich artistic heritage by reconfiguring objects such as Ming and Qing dynasty furniture and porcelain, Han dynasty urns and Neolithic vases.
Ai Weiwei returned to Beijing in 1993 where he continues to work as an artist, curator, publisher, editor and architect. He is one of the most eminent artists of his generation and his work has been shown extensively in the United States, Belgium, Germany, France, Korea and Japan. His work was included in the ‘First Guangzhou Triennial 2002’, China; the ‘48th Venice Biennale 1999’, Italy; and ‘Zones of Contact: 2006 Biennale of Sydney’. He is also working on a major architectural project — Beijing Olympic Stadium — with Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. www.qagoma.qld.gov.au
C The best works in the exhibition are those in which Ai takes archaic Chinese vessels and treats them as readymades. These include paint-dipped pots, pulverized urns in a jar, a pot with a superimposed Coca Cola logo, and a photograph of the artist casually letting a Han dynasty urn smash on the ground. Of these works the cheerily-painted Colored Vases (2006) immediately catch the eye. Ai treats the ancient pots irreverently, dipping them into buckets of industrial paint so as to leave some evidence of the original surface decoration and, thus, their age. The off-the-shelf colors pop brightly against the original dull brownish tones of the vessels, a gesture of cultural washing that nearly obliterates the past in favor of a brighter new plastic-colored future. Dust to Dust (2009) follows a similar conceptual path: Ai crushed Neolithic-age pottery to powder and stored the gritty remains in a clear glass jar. Here, the funereal act of memorializing an old urn in a modern urn coupled with the implied violence of the grinding gives the work cerebral and visceral force. Bean Gilsdorf, www.dailyserving.com
Dust to Dust is an edition of 35 jars. In 2014 a single jar sold at auction at Christies for over $18,000.
D In 1993 Ai’s father, renowned poet Ai Qing, became ill and his son returned to a swiftly modernizing China. Ai then took up themes that occupy him to this day: the determination of artistic value, the meaning of history to a future-oriented culture, the changing role of traditional craftsmanship, the repurposing of utility into aesthetics and argument.
All of these threads come together in a signature work for the artist, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995/2009), a photographic triptych documenting Ai’s destruction of a piece of pottery that was venerated precisely because it was made roughly 2,000 years ago. In this and other works in which the artist destroys the old to create the new, such as “Coca-Cola Vase” (2007) and his ongoing series of “Colored Vases,” Ai raises questions about the definition and endurance of cultural value. http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu
further reading: http://www.tangdynastytimes.com/2012/06/das-ding.html
John Olsen (b. 1928), Australia
Ali Gripper www.smh.com.au (2013) It is Autumn in the southern highlands and John Olsen is painting in a flurry of golden yellow, crimson and vermilion. The 85-year-old artist’s latest commission is monumental, even by his standards. At eight metres by six metres, it does not fit onto one canvas. Instead, Olsen paints directly onto marine ply panels on the floor of what used to be a car workshop. The mural, soon to be installed in the foyer of a new office tower in Melbourne, weighs almost 700 kilograms. It is Olsen’s largest painting since his 1973 tribute to Kenneth Slessor’s poem Five Bells, for the foyer of the Sydney Opera House.
”It’s so wonderful to be working on something this large at this point in my life,” Olsen says on the phone as we arrange an interview. ”I’m so pleased I’ve got it to this stage, before it gets too cold in the winter.”
I’m no different from Michelangelo, trying to please the pope. The brief for this commission was simply that it had to have the ‘wow’ factor.
Despite open heart surgery last year, and a series of blackouts and heart flutters slowing him down, Olsen initially planned to hire a cherry picker to hover over the painting, his brushes taped to long wooden poles. In the end, though, he chose a more cautious approach. He walks over the boards in bright woollen socks, sometimes holding onto his assistant, local artist Carlos Barrios.
We meet on a cool day at Olsen’s home on the outskirts of Bowral, where, at this time of year, the oaks and maples are ablaze in red and yellow. Olsen is at the glass front door, sporting his signature beret, walking cane in hand.
His home is perched beside a lake, with stables for his wife Katharine’s horses to one side.
”’Happy wife, happy life’ is my motto!” he says, leading the way inside. Everywhere you turn there are paintings, sculptures and poetry books.
The inner sanctum of Olsen’s studio is about the size of a small apartment. The ceilings are high, and an entire wall is filled with storage racks for his paintings. Underfloor heating keeps it warm. Through the windows you can see ducks swimming on the lake, framed by willow trees. ”It’s just magnificent, isn’t it?” he says. ”Other times I’ve seen swamp hens, cormorants, swans, pelicans [and] fish jumping. We absolutely love it here.”
Olsen has lived in Sydney, Adelaide, the Blue Mountains, and Rydal in central-west NSW, to name a few places. He and Katharine have been in the southern highlands for 14 years. ”It takes years living in one place to realise, ‘This is where I am’, don’t you think?” he says. ”And besides, I’ve got no more moves left in me.”
But there is no time to linger; it is 9.30 in the morning and Olsen can’t wait to start work. He still paints regularly, something he plans to do for the rest of his life. He is an early riser. ”You’re either a fowl or an owl, and I’m a fowl,” he says. He usually drinks a pot of tea - ”first aid” - and inspires himself by reading poetry. This morning it was W.H. Auden. ”’Stop the clocks, give the dog a juicy bone’ … that’s a marvellous one,” he says.
Olsen’s own studio is too small for the commission so we are off to a friend’s home, that of the former BBC filmmaker Tony Williams and his wife Anna Hewgill, who are making a documentary about the mural. Olsen still drives but today Barrios is at the wheel of Olsen’s navy blue Jaguar. They swerve along at 100 km/h, through a landscape reminiscent of the English countryside, interspersed with swathes of rainforest.
At the converted studio, about the size of a tennis court, Olsen leans his cane against a chair, slips off his shoes and glides out onto the centre of the work. ”Here comes the bride!” he says, holding onto Barrios’ forearm.
The King Sun, as the mural spread out on the floor is called, is inimitably Olsen: a fabulous, dappled map of, as his son, Tim, puts it, ”lines going out for a walk”- or in this case, a tango or waltz. On one edge are the little green frogs that often appear in his work. ”Oh, look at this green, it’s just delicious!” Olsen says. ”Oh green, I love you …”
Barrios hands him brushes and small pots of paint like a caddy handing a golfer his clubs. All is quiet, except for the sound of Olsen’s brush sweeping across the boards, punctuated by loud bangs as he adds dots and splotches.
Olsen once told the Herald that artists can ”show people how to look, how to see … We must look at the landscape not as real estate, but as a place of enlightenment and magic.”
The statement certainly applies to The King Sun. ”People have so much materially, but they are so depressed, or are so anxious; it’s the modern malaise,” Olsen says. ”The communication revolution we are in at the moment is a very confusing era. All things digital are dominant and quite a lot of it is a kind of pollution. I wanted to paint something that reminds people of the primary, of being back to nature, of how the sun finds its way into the darkest of places. The sun is very important to Australians; it’s so welcoming, so optimistic. You can understand the Egyptians and Incas who believed that the sun was God.”
Many regard Olsen as the artist who has, perhaps more than anyone else, captured the essence of the Australian landscape. He has travelled and lived in various parts of Australia, often for months on end. Camping at Lake Eyre in the 1970s, he watched it fill with water for the first time in decades and observed the proliferation of life that followed. It inspired much work and led to a keen interest in conservation.
”You can’t really understand the vastness of it until you’re out there,” Olsen says. ”It’s so radically different in scale to England. You can’t really grasp the overview of it, the whole process of nature and how it all connects until you’re out in it. We’ve got a real crisis on our hands if we just let the coal seam gas people go anywhere they want with a cavalier sort of attitude. They have to be responsible about it and listen to people. It is rather unspoiled out there, you know.”
Deborah Hart, a senior curator at the National Gallery of Australia, believes Olsen’s love of the Australian landscape stems partly from returning to Sydney after a scholarship to Spain in his youth.
”It must have seemed so magically alive after being steeped in an old European society. He saw it with fresh eyes; he was struck by the incredible light, the energy of Sydney, how nature folds itself around us, even in the city.”
The impact of moving from Newcastle to Bondi Beach as a young boy ”never really left him either,” she says. ”You see it in the way he paints our marine life with such joy and exuberance. That Renaissance idea is very important to him, about the interconnectedness of things, plants, animals, humans, and the sun being such a unifying force. The sun is a favourite topic of his … it’s that Mediterranean attitude that life has many challenges but that it’s important to strive towards happiness. One of the things John always has the capacity to do is to show us how to be joyful.”
Olsen’s discipline is also legendary. Tim, who represents his father at his Olsen Irwin Gallery in Woollahra, says Olsen is ready to step into the studio every day. ”He always knew that talent was not enough,” Tim says.
”I’m no different from Michelangelo, trying to please the pope,” Olsen says. ”The brief for this commission was simply that it had to have the ‘wow’ factor. I think about 13,000 people are going to walk past it every day. It needed to be reassuring and happy with a spirit of youth and optimism. Well, that suits me.”
He still makes mistakes, he admits, ”but experience had told me not to worry too much about them. Don’t get depressed about it, don’t fret, just let it go, have a day’s rest, and come back to it later.”
And he still has days when inspiration will not come. But then, suddenly, thrillingly, it happens. As a work progresses, he says, he almost ”becomes what I’m painting … The understanding of what you’re painting deepens as you go along. It becomes more than a design. I become, before it, a child of God.
”When I started [The King Sun], the scale of it nearly knocked my socks off, but then I immediately put in the positive form in that negative space. I just let the empty space talk to me. You start out with instructions, but then it takes on a life of its own. It’s almost like a question and answer: Is it this way? No. Is it that way? Yes.”
Tim says he is ”absolutely in admiration of his courage. He won’t take on work if he feels he’s going to let anybody down. He still has that focus, that dexterity and an inner sense of solace and wisdom you see in the later work of Monet or Lloyd Rees. He reminds me of Picasso, with both that spiritual and physical strength.”
After we meet for the first time, and before he finishes the commission, John has a heart attack and is rushed to hospital to be fitted with a pacemaker, which he regards as ”a kind of miracle”. Less than a fortnight later, although yet to gain his full strength, he is determined to return to the studio one last time to sign the mural.
His recovery is boosted by the news that a previous work, The Sydney Sun, is off to London in September as part of an exhibition of Australian painting at the Royal Academy. ”Isn’t it incredible?” Olsen says. ”At last! It’s so good for people to know Australia is not just about gum trees. It’s the light we have here, and the sun.”
As Olsen walks slowly towards the corner of the painting and bends to sign it, Barrios stands close, attentive to his every move. This will probably be one of Olsen’s last large works. ”Hallelujah!” he says, as he lays down the paintbrush. ”That’s that, then.”
Olsen sits down to gaze at his work. When he won the Archibald Prize in 2005 for Self Portrait Janus Faced, he said that Janus ”has the ability to look backwards and forwards and, when you get to my age, you have a hell of a lot to think about.”
The King Sun has made him equally reflective. ”Artists don’t retire; they just gently or violently fade away,” he says. ”I’m just one aspect of the whole organic part of life, along with the trees and the plants and the lake that is so beautiful … All one hopes for is that the end is speedy.”
Olsen has said that his creative life and frequent moves are a search for meaning. Has he found what he was looking for? ”Oh, I think I’m getting close,” he says.
http://www.collinssquare.com.au/about/art/ Commissioned artworks by John Olsen and Dion Horstmans.
http://www.artserieshotels.com.au/olsen/john-olsen/ the Melbourne hotel named after Olsen
http://dl.nfsa.gov.au/module/1664/ Betty Churcher on Olsen’s practice, his visual diaries and the Opera House commission Salute to Five Bells.
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/multimedia/view/?mediaid=569240 NGV’s ceiling painting by Olsen
watch the video about Sydney Sun. search @ http://www.nga.gov.au
A luncheon on the grass
1 Tiziano Vecelli, known as Titian, (c1488-1576) Republic of Venice, now Italy
Fête champêtre or Pastoral Concert (c1509) oil on canvas 105x137cm search @ www.louvre.fr
2 Marcantonio Raimondi (c1480-1534)
The Judgement of Paris (c.1510-20) after a painting by Raphael engraving
3 Edouard Manet (1832-88) France
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862-63) oil on canvas 208cm×265.5cm search @ www.musee-orsay.fr/en/
Rejected by the jury of the 1863 Salon, Manet exhibited Le déjeuner sur l’herbe under the title Le Bain at the Salon des Refusés (initiated the same year by Napoléon III) where it became the principal attraction, generating both laughter and scandal.
Yet in Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, Manet was paying tribute to Europe’s artistic heritage, borrowing his subject from the Concert Champêtre – a painting by Titian attributed at the time to Giorgione (Louvre) – and taking his inspiration for the composition of the central group from the Marcantonio Raimondi engraving after Raphael’s Judgement of Paris. But the classical references were counterbalanced by Manet’s boldness. The presence of a nude woman among clothed men is justified neither by mythological nor allegorical precedents. This, and the contemporary dress, rendered the strange and almost unreal scene obscene in the eyes of the public of the day. Manet himself jokingly nicknamed his painting “la partie carrée”.
In those days, Manet’s style and treatment were considered as shocking as the subject itself. He made no transition between the light and dark elements of the picture, abandoning the usual subtle gradations in favour of brutal contrasts, thereby drawing reproaches for his “mania for seeing in blocks”. And the characters seem to fit uncomfortably in the sketchy background of woods from which Manet has deliberately excluded both depth and perspective. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe - testimony to Manet’s refusal to conform to convention and his initiation of a new freedom from traditional subjects and modes of representation - can perhaps be considered as the departure point for Modern Art. www.musee-orsay.fr
4 Alain Jacquet (1939-2008) France Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1964) acrylic and silkscreen on 2 canvas panels 172.5 x 196 cm
search @ www.centrepompidou.fr
Jacquet was born in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts. He never practised architecture, but instead trained himself as a painter and began making works (including the Manet) based on the very obvious separate pixels that made up newspaper photographs and comic-strip artwork in the days of high-speed letterpress printing and pages composed in metal.
The American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein had already become famous for his use of magnified pixels (or Ben Day dots, as they were known in America and for ever after in the art world). The British artist Richard Hamilton had made a picture called A Little Bit of Roy Lichtenstein for … (1964), which was a tiny section lifted from a Lichtenstein work and magnified so that it became abstract. Jacquet did not go for abstraction pure and simple, but developed a series of paintings with the generic title of Camouflages in which the dots helped to disguise the subject of the painting, which underpinned the composition but was elusive to the eye.
He had his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1961, but it was 1964 when he made his first real public impact with his version of Manet, which he worked up in brilliant colours from photographs of the original - and it would have appealed to him not only that Picasso had recently produced his own series of paintings and sculptures based on the Déjeuner, but that Manet’s group of picnickers was based on a group of figures in the 16th-century engraving of The Judgment of Paris by Marcantonio Raimondi, in turn based on a drawing supplied to him by his friend Raphael. These kinds of rich allusions were to be the key to his work.
The Déjeuner was merely the beginning. Jacquet based another painting on Manet’s Olympia, one on Ingres’s La Source (which surely must have been a deliberately punning title in the Jacquet version), another on Giorgio de Chirico and one unsuccessful version of the Michelangelo Adam on the Sistine chapel ceiling, better camouflaged than most of his Camouflages between images of the statue of Liberty. Some of the most appealing of his works were original and entertaining pop cubist paintings, intricate but lucid colour harmonies. Michael McNay (2008) http://www.theguardian.com
5 1981 album cover for the band Bow Wow Wow. Photography by Andy Earl.
…Bow Wow Wow, meanwhile, are now little more than a footnote of the 1980’s New Wave movement. They were founded by Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols and New York Dolls. McLaren, one of the great post-modern operators of the last fifty years, was an artist and promoter that combined aggressive opportunism with a sharp eye for the next big thing. To put together this band he stole most of the line-up from Adam Ant and then auditioned vocalists to join as the lead singer. After many fruitless months he eventually discovered his vocalist in 14 year old Annabella Lwin (born Myint Myint Aye which translates as ‘high, high, cool’ in her native Burmese), who was working behind the counter at a dry-cleaning shop. The band would go on to create an eccentric and noisy combination of 80’s pop and world music and today they are most remembered for their amazing cover version of ‘I Want Candy’ the cover for See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy, is still considered a classic today. The composition and photography are beautiful and the performances and fashion perfectly update Manet’s iconic image. It also neatly encapsulates McLaren’s particular genius – in updating a once reviled but now canonised painting, he succeeds in refreshing its controversy. The viewer is again shocked at the woman’s presence in the picture, only this time because of her age. nevermindthebuspass.com
6 Julie Rrap (b1950) Australia
Untitled (after Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe) (2002)
Installation: reproduction of Manet’s painting, figures removed; bronze casts of the artist’s body
Precursors of the surreal
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526-93) Italy
Vertumnus (circa 1590) oil on wood panel
Fire (1566) oil on wood panel
Heironymous Bosch (1450-1516) Netherlands
Last Judgement Triptych 1482 oil on wood panel search @ www.smarthistory.khanacademy.org
Garden of Earthly Delights circa 1490-1510 oil on wood panel
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) Germany
Four Horseman of the Apocalypse circa 1497-98
online archive of Dürer’s wood engravings http://oak.conncoll.edu/visual/prints/Index_Pages/durer_index.html
Salvador Dali (1904-89) (Catalonia) Spain
Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) oil on canvas 51.2cm×78.1cm
Living Still Life (English)/ Nature Morte Vivante (French) (1956) oil on canvas
search @ www.thedali.org
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Love Song (1914) oil on canvas 73 x 59.1cm
By subverting the logical presence of objects, de Chirico created what he termed “metaphysical” paintings, representations of what lies “beyond the physical” world. www.moma.org
search @ www.moma.org
To become immortal a work of art must escape all human limits; logic and common sense will only interfere. GdeC
and some others:
Floris Van Schooten (c.1585-1655) Table with Food (1640)
search @ www.louvre.fr
Michael Zavros (born 1974) Australia V12 Narcissus (2009)
'V12 Narcissus' 2009 relates to a series of paintings Zavros made of his prized black V12 Mercedes Benz automobile. Growing up on the Gold Coast, the young artist and his father would bond over visiting local car dealerships together. For them the Mercs displayed in the window were synonymous with success; a symptom of what the artist terms as his Irish/Greek-Cypriot family's 'migrant materialism'. Read more @ www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
The Buddhas of Bamiyan
UNESCO page on the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/208
The Buddhas of Bamiyan before and after destruction
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILOuANV7K6Y 5 ½ mins
Destruction of the ancient Buddha stautes in 2001. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/1326063/After-1700-years-Buddhas-fall-to-Taliban-dynamite.html
Should the Buddhas of Bamiyan be reconstructed ? www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18991066
Marjane Satrapi, born 1969 in Iran, lives and works in France. Graphic novels, comic strips, children’s’ books, animation, film
Persepolis The film was written and directed by Satrapi with Vincent Paronnaud (2007)
Persepolis I, Persepolis II graphic novels (2000)
http://vimeo.com/52347620 Chiara Clemente’s mini-doco on Marjane Satrapi
http://vimeo.com/26630496 Satrapi speaks about her point-of-view
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4g8SOLa0E4 Marji’s Persian history lesson from her father
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mF0bt2i9QW0 Marji and contraband Western music
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9onZpQix_w interview with writer/director, Satrapi
http://www.sonyclassics.com/persepolis/ Persepolis movie website, contains synopsis, interviews, illustrations.
A Joshuah Bearman http://www.believermag.com (2006)
Toward the end of Persepolis II, the second installment of Marjane Satrapi’s ongoing project of autobiographical graphic novels, the author/narrator spends seven months designing a huge theme park based on Persian mythology. She takes her Tehran-based Disneyland to the Deputy Mayor’s office, where it is rejected—luckily for us, because shortly after that disappointment, Satrapi left Iran for Paris, a final emigration that led her to discover Art Spiegelman, the power of comics, and the development of her own method of storytelling.
Satrapi’s graphic novels are the opposite of mythology; personal and honest, they humanize the Middle East through memoir. Hemmed in by the tyranny of the mullahs, Satrapi’s life is nevertheless cosmopolitan, politically engaged, culturally sophisticated, and, like those of all adolescents, deeply conflicted. Today Satrapi lives in Paris, where she remains deeply conflicted, caught between home and exile, East and West, now all the more complicated by the geopolitics of the post–September 11 world.
B from an interview published in The Believer magazine
THE BELIEVER: Your books recently came out in Israel and were well received.
MARJANE SATRAPI: In a place like Israel, they’re very concerned with Iran, so there’s a lot of interest. Especially with what’s going on there now, the new government and all. So they want to see what this Iranian from France has to say in her comics. I guess that’s good. Now the books are coming out in other countries. And each time, they discover something different to be interested in.
BLVR: I think the broad appeal probably has to do with how your stories humanize a mostly unknown place. The popular notion about Iran is as a terrifying theocracy, brimming with lunatics who want to kill the West. As if every single Iranian has a bunch of flags in their closet, all lined up for the next Death to America/Israel protest. And then your books come along and tell a different story, about people with the same problems, sorrows, and joys that we have. And fears—here are Iranians who are just as afraid of the Iranian regime as we are.
MS: Absolutely. Here’s the problem: today, the description of the world is always reduced to yes or no, black or white. Superficial stories. Superhero stories. One side is the good one. The other one is evil. But I’m not a moral lesson giver. It’s not for me to say what is right or wrong. I describe situations as honestly as possible. The way I saw it. That’s why I use my own life as material. I have seen these things myself, and now I’m telling it to you. Because the world is not about Batman and Robin fighting the Joker; things are more complicated than that. And nothing is scarier than the people who try to find easy answers to complicated questions.
BLVR: Superhero stories are the original territory for comic books, with good versus evil. So by deepening the story, are you also commenting on the format?
MS: I just think that comics have always been more than that. They really haven’t always been superheroes. And today, of course, people like Art Spiegelman have shown how truly powerful comics can be. Joe Sacco uses comics as political reporting. So comics are just another medium to express yourself. It’s not cinema; it’s not literature; it’s just something else. It has a specific requirement, which is that images are used to tell the story. There are lots of crappy movies, with guns and action and Arnold Schwarzenegger or whatever. This is not the movies’ fault. It’s the fault of the directors who made those movies. Any medium can only live up to the strengths of the people working in it. If it’s been used to tell bad or boring stories, it’s not a problem with comics; it’s a problem with the writers of those comics.
BLVR: Do you think you reach a broader audience because of your use of comics?
MS: Maybe. Because of the images. You see a picture and you understand perfectly, immediately, the basic thing that’s happening. It’s probably more accessible because we are in a culture of images now. People are used to seeing stories that way. They understand looking at pictures. Read more here: http://www.believermag.com/issues/200608/?read=interview_satrapi
C Simon Hattonstone http://www.theguardian.com (2008)
Marjane Satrapi gusts into the room like a hurricane. She is a tiny woman propped up on huge white platform heels. She is dressed in black and is beautiful in a cubist way - Picasso could have sculpted her. Her hair is black, her mouth is a gash of red lipstick, she is talking 20 to the dozen, and smoke seems to be pouring out of every visible orifice. Everything about her is cartoon-like. Which is appropriate because she is best known as a cartoon character in her own comic books.
Satrapi, 38, is the author of Persepolis, a graphic memoir recounting her childhood in Iran, the overthrow of the corrupt Shah, the terror of the Khomeini years, the war with Iraq, the refuge she sought in Europe, and her painful path to adulthood. Persepolis, the Greek name for Persia, is desperately moving and extremely funny - a little girl’s sarcastic love letter to her family. Young Marjane is a stroppy, piss-taking, veil-wearing Marxist-anarchist who embraces her many contradictions with self-absorbed relish. When she’s not preaching communism, she’s predicting her future as a religious prophet; when she’s not pogoing down the streets as a young punk, she’s listening to the turgid prog rock of Camel or the bubblegum pop of Kim Wilde.
Now she has turned the book into an equally brilliant animated film, co-directed with fellow comic book writer Vincent Paronnaud. The movie is as stark and simple as her own drawings (her family could be an Iranian Simpsons - only real), with the added bonus of an expressionist feel that recalls the films of Fritz Lang.
Persepolis has been dismissed by the Iranian authorities as Islamophobic, but Satrapi says this is ridiculous - she is not a political animal or a religious commentator, she is an artist. And while Persepolis is scathing about the hypocrisies and cruelties of Iran’s theocracy, she is equally critical of George Bush’s Christian fundamentalism. She accuses the west of cultural imperialism, saying it always reduces Iran to Hizbullah or 1001 Arabian Nights; the flying carpet or the flying rocket. What she wanted to do in Persepolis was tell her story and show what it means to be Iranian for her.
Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, near the Caspian Sea, and grew up in Tehran, where her father was an engineer and her mother a dress designer. She is descended from Iranian aristocrats - her maternal great-grandfather was Nasser-al-Din Shah, Persian emperor from 1848 to 1896, and her grandfather was a prince. But she stresses this does not make her quite so privileged as it sounds - her great-grandfather had 100 wives. Go back far enough, and you’ll find out most Iranian families are blue-blooded, she says.
Her parents were Marxist intellectuals who enjoyed the good life - they drove a Cadillac, drank alcohol, ate at the best places, were thoroughly westernised. They campaigned against the Shah, and looked forward to the Islamic revolution till it happened. In Persepolis she visits her beloved uncle in jail awaiting execution. After her neighbour’s house is bombed, she finds her best friend’s bracelet in the rubble “attached to something”. The elliptical nature of the storytelling (life-changing events can start and finish in one panel) makes it all the more heartbreaking.
As a child, Satrapi was supremely gobby. Her parents always encouraged her to have her own opinion. She says there is something Hitleresque in her character that she has inherited from her father - she means in the power of her convictions rather than her politics. Satrapi was a sceptic from the off. "If the majority of people were right, we’d be living in paradise. But we are not living in paradise, we are living in hell. What does it mean? That means the majority of people are wrong. So I never believed what people told me."
There were no toys in the house, but more books than she could read. She was an only child and talked and played cards for entertainment. "I always used to win because I cheat." She smiles - a naughty-girl smile. "I mean playing without cheating, what is the point? The second I learned how to play, I learned how to cheat, too." Her parents were nice people, she says - they pretended they didn’t know she was cheating.
But Marjane was a worry for them. When she wasn’t cheating or asking precocious questions she would be out in Tehran buying contraband tapes, spreading the word of western pop and wearing Michael Jackson T-shirts under the veil. Her parents feared she would get into serious trouble with the Revolutionary Guard. Soon after their neighbours were bombed, they sent 14-year-old Marjane away to Austria to study. Part of the problem, she says, is that she was so intelligent, so easily bored by people and their ideas. I ask her whether she has met anybody as intelligent as herself? She shakes her head, and snorts: “No. Maybe Vincent, the guy with whom I made the movie.”
Satrapi could easily be obnoxious, but she’s not - saved by her self-awareness, and her humour. She says that she painted her most accurate self-portrait in her last book, Chicken With Plums, about her great-uncle Nasser Ali Khan, a musician who played the tar, a long-necked lute. When his wife breaks his instrument, the despairing musician starves himself and takes to his bed to die, which he does eight days later. “He is completely unbearable, narcissistic, egocentric but also lovely and charming. That’s actually how I see myself. You have to be narcissistic to be an artist. You have to think you are the centre of the whole thing otherwise why do you create? The only thing is to recognise it, and then you make the best of it.”
We meet in London. She can’t stand Britain because of the smoking ban. She suggests that we talk in her hotel room because at least she will be able to smoke there. She lives for her cigs, and is quite happy to die for them, she says. “For me smoking is like looking at your soul,” she says in a rasping hybrid accent. "There is something extraordinarily poetic about smoking - from the gesture of holding a cigarette, turning it on, smoking it, the taste of it, the smell of it, I love every-thing about smoking." She has no truck with the kill-joys who want to stop us doing all the things that we enjoy - simply because it might prolong our life. “Anything that has a relationship with pleasure we reject it. Eating, they talk about cholesterol; making love, they talk about Aids; you talk about smoking, they talk about cancer. It’s a very sick society that rejects pleasure.” She’s working herself up into a climax of disgust. "Why should we live like sick people just to give some fresh meat to the ground? I hope my meat is so rotten no worm in the whole universe will want to come and eat it. I want to be rotten to accept the idea of dying. Every day you live you get one day closer to death. If you are never born you will never die. Giving birth is also giving death." She smiles, having hit on the solution to combating death.
It’s not surprising that the teenage Satrapi lost her way in Europe. She expected to find herself in a secular paradise looked after by Zozo, her mother’s best friend. In Persepolis, she imagines how it will be: "It’s going to be cool to go to school with a veil, to not have to beat oneself every day for the war martyrs." In fact, Zozo leaves her in a boarding house run by nuns and Marjane is thrown out for calling the mother superior a prostitute when she says Iranians are “uneducated”. "In every religion you find the same extremists," young Marjane concludes.
Satrapi discovered boys and booze. At her nadir she was peddling drugs, homeless, and she almost died from bronchitis. After four years in Vienna, she admitted defeat, put on her veil and returned home.
Back in Iran, she became even more depressed. She was 19 years old, her friends had rejected her as a western decadent, and she belonged nowhere - a westerner in Iran, an Iranian in the west. She tried to slit her wrists, but failed miserably - a fruit knife was never going to do the trick. She took an overdose of antidepressants, but they just made her sleep for three days.
"This is past, and it really comes from a very dark moment of my life. Dying is…" For once, she fails to complete a sentence. "When people say there is no alternative, there is always an alternative - to die, for example. It’s a choice. You always have this choice."
Her work, like her life, seems to segue from the ecstatic to the depressive. "Well depressive, I don’t know. If you have a little sensibility or a heart you have all the reason to be depressed once in a while. But the depression is like a motor for creation. I need a little bit of depression, a bit of acid in my stomach, to be able to create. When I’m happy I just want to dance."
She studied graphic arts in Iran and at 21 married a young artist who turned out to be her polar opposite. He allowed her to do what she wanted, but she still felt imprisoned. A month later they were in separate beds, three years later they were divorced.
As a young woman, she says, she got things so wrong. "I was so stupid when I was 20. I could do mathematics extremely quickly so I had this kind of intelligence, but the intelligence of life I didn’t have. I was too aggressive, making all the bad choices, believing I was a nice person and I was not, believing I was a mean person and I wasn’t. Everything I thought was wrong. With age things become better and better."
At 24, she returned to Europe, and did a second art degree in Strasbourg. She supported herself by teaching aerobics and languages. When she finished studying she expected to be feted, but no one was interested. “When you go to art school you think you are the centre of the universe, the next Pablo Picasso, you’ll come out of the art school and everyone will say, ‘Pablo where were you? We were all waiting for you.' But nobody is waiting for you. Not only are they not waiting for you, they make you that.” She gives me the finger. "That is the way it was. They were right to reject me. I reworked the projects they rejected and they became better."
I tell her she’s still got something of the young punk about her today. No, she protests, she is every inch the bourgeoise. "I’m a lady." She likes the sound of lady so much that she repeats it, running it off her tongue with lascivious delight. "I’m a lady." She likes to mislead people, she says. "It is better not to look like what you are; it is better to look like a bourgeois woman because then all the doors are open for you and then you can just go and make hell. That is much more exciting." She despairs at the lack of ambition in today’s youth. "Their dream is to become Paris Hilton."
Satrapi, who has lived in Paris for 12 years, says there is so much to fear in today’s world - the potential for nuclear weapons in Iran, the actuality of nuclear weapons in the US; the blind faith of both Bush and Iran’s president Ahmadinejad, who trust more in God than political process. Even the French are voting for the politics of fear and loathing, she says with contempt.
She thinks the world is headed for disaster now there is no counter to capitalism. "Now China has become capitalist, we are all going in the same direction. I am not defending communism, but when you have a power that goes in one direction, you need a power that goes in the other direction. Another thing is that for 10 years we have been naming the evil - pointing to ‘the axis of evil’. Naming the evil is the most dangerous thing to do; that is the beginning of fascism. If the evil is the people of one place or one country, well, let’s go and exterminate all of them… I am just an artist and my duty is to ask questions."
Her identity as an artist was shaped in 1995 when she was given Art Spiegelman’s classic Holocaust comic book, Maus, as a birthday present. She had no idea art could tell stories in such a way. Satrapi decided the comic book would be her chosen form. She was rejected time and again. She went to see the art director of one prominent French publisher who hated her work so much he became angry. “He said you don’t have any style, it goes in all different directions, and I came home depressed and cried for a whole week. Then two years after Persepolis was published and I got some prizes and I had a name, the secretary of this guy called me and he says, this guy wants to see you. So I went with the same book as I had been to see him with before, and he was like, ‘What courage! You have tried all these different styles.’ I said that’s not what you told me three years ago. And he said, ‘Did I see you three years ago?’ And I said, ‘You don’t have a very good memory, but I do.” She laughs. “We ended up working together. I’m not a revenger kind of person.”
She started writing Persepolis when she was 29 in 1999, and it was published the following year. If she had written it 10 years earlier it would have been rubbish, she says, because it would have been too angry. Back then, her world was simply divided into goodies and baddies. Whereas the extremists of her youth took the shape of mullahs, now she sees them everywhere. “I am against fundamentalism. I am not against any religion, Islam, Judaism, Christianity etc. It is the use of an ideology to kill people that I am against.” She is not critical of the veil per se, she is critical of its imposition. "I really believe in a society where if someone wants to walk in the street completely naked they will be able to, and if someone wants to wear a veil they will also be able to."
Is she religious? “Religion is a very personal affair. It’s between someone and what he considers the god, or the supreme spirit or whatever, and it’s very good while it remains personal. The second it becomes public, it’s no good. And that’s why I don’t make it public either.”
When Persepolis was published she thought 300 people would buy it “to help this poor Iranian girl living in Paris”. So far it has sold well over a million copies and has been translated into 24 languages. (Satrapi herself speaks six languages - Farsi, French, German, English, Swedish, Italian.) What has delighted her is the story’s universal appeal - it’s not just about Iran, it’s about growing up in any place with problems.
There is still something rootless about Satrapi. Now that the French have banned smoking in public places, she is looking to move again - perhaps to Greece. She has not returned to Iran, where her parents still live, for eight years. She does not know how safe she would be in Iran, where her books are available in samizdat form. She fears she might be thrown into jail - not a risk she is prepared to take.
For now, perhaps her main contact with Iran is through her work. The film of Persepolis, which was nominated for the best animated feature Oscar, features the voice of her all-time hero Iggy Pop, and those of Catherine Deneuve, Gena Rowlands and Chiara Mastroianni, as young Marjane. "For me Iggy Pop is a crooner, but he’s a desperate, angry crooner." A similar marriage of the tender and the spiky, the humane and the misanthropic, is what makes her work so memorable. Her greatest creations are representations of the family members she most loves; the sexy grandmother who would bathe her breasts in milk to keep them firm; the charismatic father who adored his life of luxury every bit as much as his Marxist-Leninist ideology; the thoroughly modern mother who wept when her daughter married so young.
She is amazed how life has worked out. In France, she married a man about whom she will say nothing other than that he is Swedish. They have no children. "I don’t understand when people say it is so natural to make children… I want to devote my life to my art. And I know if I’m a man and I say that I would be this great artist who sacrifices life for his talent, but since I am a woman I become this ambitious bitch who doesn’t want to have kids. Some people think like that, but I don’t care."
Now she has sufficient distance from the past, she can see that things are probably as good as they get. "I’m this woman coming from Iran, I’ve succeeded in what I wanted, I live in the city I want, I live with the man I want, I make the work I want, and they pay me for it, which is incredible. How many people in the world have this luck?"
D Kristin Hohenadel http://www.nytimes.com (2007)
Marjane Satrapi’s life was flashing before her eyes. There she was, a mischievous girl on the streets of Tehran, buying contraband records during the Islamic revolution. Singing the lyrics in her bedroom at the top of her teenage lungs. Fidgeting with her head scarf at the lycée. Mourning the political imprisonment of her uncle. Falling in love for the first time. Saying goodbye to her beloved parents as they sent her, their only child, to find freedom and solace in the West.
“Imagine you see your face everywhere — from the back, from the front, as a girl, adolescent, everywhere,” Ms. Satrapi, 37, said during the making of an animated movie based on her best-selling and critically praised comic-book memoir, “Persepolis.” The original version, in French, includes the voices of the legendary French actress Danielle Darrieux as her grandmother, Catherine Deneuve as her mother and Chiara Mastroianni — the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Ms. Deneuve — as Marjane. An English-language adaptation, which will also include Ms. Deneuve, with Gena Rowlands as the grandmother, is scheduled to be released by Sony Pictures Classics this year.
Ms. Satrapi has drawn herself thousands of times. But she found it initially overwhelming to watch her own vivid gestures animated on computer screens in the skylighted atelier that is the film’s headquarters in the 10th Arrondissement. Eventually, she said, she learned to put emotional distance between herself and her character.
“From the beginning I started to talk about ‘Marjane’ and ‘Marjane’s parents,’ ” she explained, “because you cannot do it otherwise. There are people, for example, drawing my grandmother. My grandmother is dead. Here not only is she moving, but I have to look at her, image by image. If I think, ‘This is my grandmother and my story,’ I would start crying all the time. And it’s not easy for the animators if I start talking about me, me, me. I will make them crazy, and they will be walking on eggshells. They won’t let themselves go.
“When my parents came to the studio, nobody breathed. Imagine you are drawing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and suddenly a big mouse and a big duck walk in.”
Ms. Satrapi’s poignant coming-of-age story is drawn in a simple yet evocative style, which conveys maximum feeling with deceptively naïve images in minimalist black and white. It was first published in 2000 in France, where she has lived in self-imposed exile for 12 years. When the book was released in the United States in 2003, she said, Hollywood executives offered to buy the rights for adaptations that included a “Beverly Hills, 90210”-esque series set in Tehran. An ardent filmgoer who has served as a juror at the Cannes Film Festival, she concluded that making a filmed version of her own story was a bad idea.
“Normally when you make a movie out of a book, it’s never a success,” she said over her morning espresso and cigarettes, wearing all black and her trademark platform heels. But when Marc-Antoine Robert, an acquaintance and fledgling producer, offered to raise money to make the movie in France, Ms. Satrapi agreed under what she presumed were impossible conditions: despite having no filmmaking experience, she wanted to direct the movie herself, in black and white. And she wanted Catherine Deneuve to play her mother.
Ms. Satrapi teamed up with Vincent Paronnaud, a fellow comic book author who has also made a few short films. “We’re like the Coen brothers,” she said of herself and Mr. Paronnaud, who co-wrote and is co-directing the film. “We’re very complementary. I would have made much more of a Bergman movie. But I don’t want something that a couple of intellectuals in Paris and New York will watch and nobody else.”
It was Mr. Paronnaud who pushed her to dramatize emotional and violent sequences that she had insinuated in the book. “Vincent is good at knowing where the camera should go, how to cut to give scenes rhythm,” Ms. Satrapi said. “People were thinking, if you just film the frames of the book, you have a movie. If you just film the book, it would be extremely boring.” She and Mr. Paronnaud picked their moments and condensed the book into a 90-minute film, told as a flashback.
“In no way did we want to betray the book, but we had to make choices,” Mr. Paronnaud said. “The idea was to keep the spirit and energy of the book and to try and find a way to interpret it differently on film.”
Ms. Satrapi said she wrote “Persepolis” as an answer to the relentless and loaded question of what it means to be Iranian. But her book’s success has meant that she has both gently educated those in the West — “Persepolis” is taught in 118 colleges in the United States, including West Point, according to Pantheon, its publisher — and taken part in a larger conversation about the book’s global resonances.
“Little by little, as the book got translated in other languages, people were saying, ‘This is my story too,’ ” she said. “Suddenly I said to myself, ‘This is a universal story.’ I want to show that all dictatorships, no matter if it’s Chile, if it’s the Cultural Revolution in China or Communist Poland, it’s the same schematic. Here in the West we judge them because we are so used to democracy, believing that if we have something, it is because we deserve it, because we chose it. Political changes turn your life completely upside down, not because you are crazy but because you don’t have any way out.”
The executive producer of “Persepolis” is Kathleen Kennedy, a veteran Hollywood producer who approached Ms. Satrapi after the film was in production, asking to buy the rights. Ms. Satrapi declined to sell but welcomed her involvement. Ms. Kennedy found an American distributor, providing an infusion of cash while leaving Ms. Satrapi in creative control, a rare occurrence for a black-and-white animated film in progress from a pair of first-time directors.
“Persepolis” is a rarity in France: an animated feature that was entirely produced here, rather than being farmed out to Asian animators. The filmmakers favored an artisanal approach that includes hand-tracing the images on paper, an art long lost to computer animation software.
“It’s not that they do lesser work in Asia, but it’s complicated to communicate with people 10,000 kilometers away,” said Marc Jousset, the film’s art and technical director, who assembled the animation team. “Marjane is here every day. She implicates herself in every decision. And even if she had never done an animation sequence, she has given us courses in things like how the head scarf is worn at home versus on the street in Iran, things that are important for the rigor of the story.”
Mr. Jousset said it took a few months to find the right style of animation. Characters are depicted in black and white, as they are in the comic book, while the settings are richly shaded in grays that lend them a painterly quality. “The narration had to be somewhat somber and restrained, and I saw a lot of animators with too cartoonish of a style,” Mr. Jousset said. “It’s an animated film, but we wanted it to be rather realistic, as if it was being filmed live.”
The voices were recorded before the animators began work, with Ms. Satrapi coaching the actors one on one. (Aghast at the prospect of bossing Ms. Deneuve around, she said, she downed three cognacs before directing the actress, who turned out to be “funny and intelligent and a big smoker.”) Ms. Satrapi allowed herself to be recorded while acting out the physical gestures for each scene, to give the animation team a physical reference.
“We could do any number of movements to coordinate with the words,” said Christian Desmares, the chief animator, “but Marjane wanted to really personalize each character, to use precise Iranian gestures. And we don’t know how to do that.”
Ms. Satrapi interjected: “I play all the roles. Even the dog.”
It took an adjustment, she added, to transform herself from a solo artist into the co-leader of a 90-member filmmaking team, though she has gotten some practice in group dynamics by lecturing regularly in Europe and the United States.
“I realized I had a talent I didn’t know,” she said. “In France people will tell you everything is impossible. I have the enthusiasm of an American. I tell people: ‘Rah, yes! We’re going to make a great movie.’ And it pays; you can see their reaction. And suddenly you realize they have ideas that you didn’t have. It is hard for me, for my ego, to say this: For me, the movie is better than the book.”
also search @ http://asiasociety.org
Khadim Ali (born 1978) Pakistan/ Australia
The Haunted Lotus gouache, ink and gold leaf on wasli paper, 70 x 54 cm
(C16th) Persia Khusraw discovers Shirin bathing in a pool ink, opaque watercolor, silver and gold on paper 31.1 × 19.7cm
A The haunted lotus considers family, the Hazara people and culture, and the emergence of a lawless society in contemporary Afghanistan.
In this exhibition Khadim Ali wrestles with the violence he experienced in Afghanistan through images that interpret a mythological past – the 10th-century Persian epic poem, the Shahnameh or ‘Book of kings’.
Influenced by Persian miniatures, his images on paintings and rugs depict demons from the Shahnameh in a complex act of identification with demonised – or dehumanised – people.
‘My demons are the story of my historical self and a people who are displaced and shelterless in the world. Demonising is the dehumanising of the Hazaras and forcing them to an indescribable dominion where they must abide by a civil law that does not protect them.’ – Khadim Ali, 2013
Made in collaboration with weavers in Afghanistan, this is the first time Ali has used the medium of rug-making [inspired by] the survival of a rug from Ali’s bombed home. www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
B When I am doing the artwork I never think about people looking at it. It is a visual diary, a connection with myself. I want it to be pure. It is my own history and very present at that moment. Khadim Ali
He addresses the issues of displacement, of migration of meaning and identity, of where you decide to pull that to form who you are, and he has really been an articulate advocate for his people. Suhanya Raffel, Art Gallery of NSW.
C Khadim Ali is a member of the Hazara community from the central mountainous area of Afghanistan called Hazarajat. Ali’s artistic practice is directly informed and influenced by his family’s plight in exile and their experience of continued violence in northern Pakistan, where they now live.
Trained in the discipline of Persian manuscript painting, Ali is inspired by his rich cultural heritage in the creation of introspective, jewel-like paintings that convey the complex history of this region. Eclectically rich in iconography drawn from Eastern and Western art histories, Ali’s work provocatively engages with ideas of social and religious prejudice and its effect on the way history is written and remembered, particularly in times of war.
Khadim Ali completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Miniature Painting) at the National School of Art, Lahore, Pakistan, in 2003, and has exhibited widely in Pakistan, as well as in Iran, Japan and Afghanistan. www.qagoma.qld.gov.au
D Khadim Ali was born in 1978 in Quetta, Pakistan, as an Afghan refugee. His family, belonging to the Hazara minority, fled Afghanistan to escape Taliban persecution. From 1998–99, he studied mural painting and calligraphy in Tehran, Iran. He earned a BFA at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan (2003), where he studied traditional miniature painting. He completed artist residencies in Japan through the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (2006) and Arts Initiative Tokyo (2007). Ali moved to Sydney in 2010 and earned an MFA at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales (2012).
Haunted by the March 2001 Taliban destruction of two monumental 6th-century Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan (the Ali family’s ancestral home, located 150 miles northwest of Kabul), the artist returned to the town in 2006 and conducted The Bamiyan drawing project as part of his participation in the 5th Asia Pacific Triennial, Brisbane, Australia (2006), for which he invited area children to depict local stories. Then, during his residency in Fukuoka later that year, he asked Japanese children to respond to the Afghan children’s images. The drawings became the basis of the series Absent Kitchen (2006– ). Ali returned to Bamiyan again in April 2008 and embarked on a collaboration with Lebanese-Canadian artist Jayce Salloum titled the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart (2008–11). This poetic documentary account of the ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas and the valley’s current conditions takes the form of a layered installation of photographs, videos, documents, objects, and paintings. www.ocula.com
E Born in 1978, Khadim Ali grew up in the city of Quetta, Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan.Trained in the art of contemporary miniature painting at the prestigious National College of Art in Lahore, Pakistan, and in mural painting and calligraphy at Tehran University, Iran, Ali is inspired by his rich cultural heritage and employs traditional artistic techniques to explore the region’s complex history. His work is provocative in confronting the social and religious prejudice his family has faced, and considers the effect of such bias on the writing of history, particularly during wartime. In this series, Ali references the thousand-year-old Persian epic the Shahnameh (Book
of kings), one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature. For centuries, this text has served as inspiration for artists, particularly those from Iran, Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan; as a young child, Ali would sit with his grandfather as he sang its vivid sagas. Composed of some fifty thousand verses, the Shahnameh recounts the myths, legends, and history of Iran from the beginning of time to the Arab conquest in the seventh century. One of its mythological heroes is Rustam, the powerful winged god of Persia, known for his extraordinary strength, bravery, and loyalty. As part of an ethnic minority known as the Hazara, Ali’s family was attacked repeatedly by the Taliban, a fundamentalist Muslim group that controlled much of Afghanistan. Ali has used his art to respond to this brutality. Through the medium of miniature painting, he explores storytelling and reveals how established cultural icons can be subverted to serve multiple ends in contemporary life and politics. The work stems from an encounter Ali had with a young boy named Rustam who was unaware that his namesake was a mythological character from the Shahnameh. His only association with his name was through the Taliban, who used it to enforce an image of omnipresent vigilance.
By associating itself with the kings and heroes of the past, the Taliban seeks to cast itself as an organization of legitimate rulers. Ali inserts personal symbols to counter the hijacking of his culture. For example, the red rope in some of his works is a memorial to those who were killed under the Taliban regime. In these works, warrior-like figures pose as kings, but remain ogres.
ABCTV News story on the artist. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-12/hazara-artist-khadim-ali-goes-from-pakistan-to-sydney-gallery/5255852
AGNSW exhibition The Haunted Lotus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eEXqUZXt7M
Asia Society interview with the artist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tm0rAZgrJyg
search @ www.guggenheim.org