Iraqi-born painter Ayad Alkadhi seeks to uncover Iraqi’s post-invasion turmoil with the series “I am Baghdad – Shie’i & Sunni”.
The artist recently released a video discussing his “need to tell a story” in conjunction with an artist talk and exhibition at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Ayad Alkadhi (b. 1971, Baghdad, Iraq) left his country in 1994, shortly after the conclusion of the first Gulf War. He went on to successfully earn an MFA from New York University’s ITP School of the Arts and currently lives in New York City. His work will be shown at the upcoming Asian Art Biennial held at National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung (19 September – 6 December 2015). At a recent talk at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) in Honolulu, Hawaii, Alkadhi discussed his process – with a video capturing the thoughts driving his paintings:
“I am Baghdad – Shie’i & Sunni”
Alkadhi’s previous series of works have addressed the human condition alongside dark, historical narratives including the Arab Spring (“I Will Not be Silenced” and “Blue Bra”), torture (“Al-Grareeb”) and the tragedy of war and those left behind (“Widow Nation”).
The “I am Baghdad – Shie’i & Sunni” series (2014/2015) represents a continuation of the artist’s “I am Baghdad” series (2008/2013), responding to the sectarian violence between the two religious orders after the 2003 invasion by allied troops. Similar to his “I am Baghdad” series, images of Alkadhi, his brothers, cousins and friends form partially obscured profiles – revealing a kind of ‘everyman’ rendered blind and mute by circumstances.
As Alkadhi notes in the video, the series represents a snapshot of life in Iraq today:
This series is a collection of interview-like shots in which Iraqis from different walks of life express their feelings about the political, social and religious changes that are sweeping over their country today.
The three pillars of Islamic design
According to Alkadhi, his creativity is a blend of “analytical and investigative approaches” that harken back to his undergraduate days at Baghdad’s University of Technology in the Engineering Department. As the artist explained earlier this year at the Honolulu Museum of Art, he utilises the three pillars of Islamic design: symmetry, repetition and rhythm, which ideally lead the viewer to a sense of “calm hypnosis”.
Traditionally, calligraphic script was often included in the region’s artwork and architecture, with phrases from religious texts or sacred poems originating from known and “identifiable” sources. In Alkadhi’s work, however, although he includes familiar names such as Mohammed, Abu Baker, Othman, Omar, Ali, Hassan and Housein – all known historical Islamic figures – the script is intermingled with three or more randomly selected names, rendering the result illegible. Alkadhi says:
The role of calligraphy here is to only express emotion and not to convey a readable or literal message. I use calligraphy as a bridge to Middle Eastern heritage and culture.
A diasporic artist reflecting on war
Underneath the hyper-stylised, electrically charged Ruqa’a or Thulith calligraphic scripts, illustration, patterns and colour, the artist lays a bed of newsprint, which he considers “a backdrop of visual white noise”. Alkadhi states that his work provides a narrative around how Iraqi’s feel about their current situation, something that might be difficult for outsiders to discern and fully understand. As Howard Zinn, American historian, writer and social activist once said:
The role of the artist in times of war is to go beyond and escape what is handed down by government or what is said in the media.
For Alkadhi, he considers his work to be therapeutic. It also offers him a chance to explore important topics and “bridge the gap” between destruction and honest cross-cultural understanding, while letting his narrative whisper its own story.
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