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Coming in from the cold
by Muhammad Yusuf January 12, 2017
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Art has shaken off its traditional hibernation (starting every mid-December and ending mid-January) and has heralded its first quarter season of this year with a series of knock out shows.     

Feeling out the market (call it the early bird or the canary in a coal mine), was Dubai’s well loved gallery Lawrie Shabibi with its presentation ‘In the Heart of the Cosmos’, a solo exhibition by Asad Faulwell (Jan. 9 – Feb. 4). It is Faulwell’s second solo show at the gallery, featuring new works that expand his celebrated ongoing series, ‘Les Femmes d’Alger’.

It seeks to shed light on Algerian women freedom fighters who fought with the National Liberation Front during the 1954 -1966 Algerian war for independence from French occupation and their largely forgotten legacy.

The  title  of  the  exhibition  references ‘Black  Skins, White Masks’, the 1952 book by philosopher Franz Fanon  whose  works  explore  colonialism,  violent opposition, and its lingering psychological  implications. 

Drawing inspiration from  Fanon’s writings and Gillo Pontecorvos’s 1966 film ‘The Battle  of  Algiers’, the  artist  illustrates  the  women  both as saints  and  villains,  aggressors  and  victims,  captured  and brutally tormented  by  their  French adversaries  and  alienated  by  their Algerian  male counterparts  who  recruited  them  with  no  intention  of  recognising  their contribution or empowering them after the war ended.

The works in Faulwell’s series are titled ‘Les Femmes D’Alger’ recalling Delacroix’s 1834 painting of the same name and Picasso’s 1954 homage to it. While those artists depicted anonymous Algerian women in objectified and sexualised scenes, Faulwell chooses  instead  to  present  a contemporary  version  of  those  paintings  examining  not  only  the  narratives  of  women warriors, but the suffering they endured as soldiers in the civil war and the moral ambiguity of violent  resistance to  defy colonial rule.

In this way, he re-evaluates the history of Orientalist portrayals of women from Algeria. Faulwell adorns the unsung heroines with halos and crowns, painting theme in grisaille, to resemble monuments and lend them an air of devotional shrines.

In these latest paintings, his works have incorporated more complex collage patterns with figures painted in a gold stippling effect. The wounded pallid visages are set against sumptuously coloured motifs that carpet the backgrounds of the paintings, reminiscent of Matisse’s decorative patterning as well as those from Faulwell’s own Iranian/Islamic tradition of geometric design and ornamentation.

Collaged onto the paintings surfaces are black and white photographs appropriated from news clippings and periodicals the artist has culled through years of research that capture the women on trial in French courts or the moments after their pardon.

Faulwell’s series of paintings commemorate these largely forgotten revolutionaries; yet he neither judges nor condones their actions. Whether they are heroes or villains remains at the discretion of the viewer.

Faulwell  (b.1982)  was  born  in  Caldwell,  Idaho,  and  currently  resides  and  works  in  Los Angeles. He graduated from UCSB in 2005 and Claremont Graduate University in 2008. While at Claremont, he was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant.

He has participated in several solo exhibitions including Shapeless Shackles, Bill Brady Gallery, Missouri, 2016; Obelisk Movements, Kravets Wehby Gallery, New York, 2014; Bed of Broken Mirrors, Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 2014 and Pins and Needles, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas, 2013.

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1 x 1 Art Gallery, Dubai, is set to inaugurate ‘The Poetics of Absence’, its show curated by Cristiana de Marchi (Jan. 15 – Feb. 28). The gallery has brought a cornucopia of artists, featuring Afra bin Dhaher, Alia Lootah, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, John Clang, Lamia Joreige, Mohammed-Said Baalbaki, Monika Weiss, Nedim Kufi, Reza Aramesh, Tarek Al Ghoussein, Tomoko Hayashi, Wafaa Bilal and Youssef Nabil. You cannot complain of being denied a full stomach!

“(The) lament for a life left behind in a land that will forever be memory and myth, and the whispered elegy that is the prayer of a poet possessed with the promise of a perfect land always yearned for, never gained”, says Mazumdar, putting in a round about way, an exile’s yearning for his homeland.

Absence is a motif based on the roots of European culture and civilisation. The theme of travel is strictly connected to that of separation, of disruption and of the inevitability of making farewells.

The reverse of these feelings is of course the attempt to neutralise or even annihilate the evidence of severance through a series of stratagems, conscious, unconscious and subconscious, methods that voyagers, travellers and migrants have perfected over the millennial history of humanity or individually, during the course of one’s experience.

Photography is perhaps the antidote to feelings of loss. It has a privileged position among the expedients recently adopted to minimise the effects of nostalgia, and as absurd as it might seem, also in order to increase those same effect.

We carry images in notebooks, wallets and suitcases (and in the last decades, in telephones, computers and other electronic devices) in order to have a physical, “objective” reminder of places and individuals of high emotional relevance, whose memory we cannot allow to fade or dissolve.

Documents, photographic archives and artistic photography seem to share a deep interest in the collection of visual relics, although their treatment dramatically changes, as they move on a line that starts with preservation and ends with re-interpretation.

The 1 x 1 Art Gallery exhibition deals with such issues.

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Green Art Gallery, Dubai, is presenting ‘Daga’a’ (18:53 min, 2015, Jan. 15 – Feb. 7), a video work by Palestinian artist Shadi Habib Allah. It was commissioned for the New Museum Triennial in 2015, has since been shown at Portikus, Frankfurt (2016), Hamburg International Short Film Festival (2016), Courtisane Festival, Ghent, Belgium (2016) and the International Rotterdam Film Festival (2016).

This will be its first presentation in the region. The videographer embarks on an unlikely journey near gunpoint across the heavily militarised Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, led by a network of Bedouin smugglers, who navigate an unmapped terrain.

The only signposts are the stories they share about the stakes of living, dying and moving through this mysterious space. Directions and allegiances are blurred, as is the state of the Bedouin, who remain unrecognised citizens of this no man’s land. Their navigation tactics, a formation of discipline of movement and coordination developed by necessity to evade military patrols, mirrors the militarised mentality of the Egyptian army.

Shadi Habib Allah (b. 1977, Jerusalem, Palestine), received a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in 2003 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2010. His practice ranges from film, sculpture and drawing to installation.

He was twice awarded second prize for the Young Artist Award from the AM Qattan Foundation, and has attended residencies at Delfina Foundation, Cittadelarte, Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, Italy, and Gasworks in London, UK.

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