Faceless figures speak of the frailty of the human condition.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Ayyam Gallery is presenting Those Houses Behind the Army Canal (Feb. 28 — May 1), a solo exhibition featuring Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s recent body of work. This series is the second chapter of his project, Books of Passage, charting three generations of migration in his family. The first chapter, titled The River That Was in the South (2019) was shown at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Ayyam Gallery, Dubai and in Cairo Biennale, respectively. Books of Passage consists of three chapters in which the artist explores how identity was formed in his grandfather’s, father’s and in the time of his own generation.
As he explores existential questions about the world around him, Alfraji collects and arranges personal and collective memories, in an attempt to understand and dissect them, using the tools he works with as an artist. He believes that memory consists of several layers which may conflict with each other, or exist as fragments, or be interwoven with each other, and are generally also incomplete due to the emptiness that war, migration and loss leaves behind. A fresh layer of memory is created, for example, when someone builds a new life in a different place; but it can also be passed on through the language and culture of previous generations.
When a coup took place in 1958, and the Republic of Iraq was declared, the new leader, Abd al-Karim Qasim, announced a plan to rehouse the inhabitants. He had The Army Canal dug, beyond which the new neighbourhood — Madinat Al-Thawra (Revolution City, now known as Sadr City) — was built, where every family was given a plot of land. The bright promise of the new neighbourhood, however, soon faded. The new residents had to build their own homes using cheap materials available to them — the streets were narrow and initially there were no drains; so the entire district flooded with water when it rained.
In a series of journals, he created a dialogue between his father and himself, putting himself in his father’s place, deciding to go to Baghdad and build a house there for his family, and how it must have been to arrive there. Alfraji visualises the concerns and faces of the current generation in screenprints of old portraits he found on the internet and elsewhere, the iconic images and logos discovered there, videos and drawings of what it looked like at the time, and how it looks today. He does not tell a linear story; instead, he presents an accumulation of memories, imaginings and ideas. In one painting, a timeless figure looks out over Baghdad, observing the city, unsure of what the future will bring.
His work has been influenced by Expressionism, as well as a love of philosophy and literature, especially existentialism. His signature is shadowy, faceless figures and dark backgrounds, often in agonised postures, which speak of the frailty of the human condition and the question of human survival. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960, he lives and works in Amersfoort, Netherlands. Founded in 2006, Ayyam Gallery is an arts organisation that manages the careers of established and emerging artists.
A blue-chip art space in Dubai, a series of collaborative projects in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia, and a multinational non-profit arts programme, furthers its mandate of expanding the parameters of international art. The gallery owns a multilingual publishing division and a custodianship programme that manages the estates of art pioneers.
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