IRAQ WAR & PERSIAN BATHS IN OIL
"My work is inspired by people and places. Ideas develop through a process of observation and memory. The Hammam series examines the exclusivity of a female space, its social significance and celebrates the idea of feminine by breaking the stereotypes. The War series depicts the current conflict in Iraq, viewed through the eyes of media, the de-humanisation and the destruction. Tragic overlaps the comic."
It was only recently that I came into contact with Akram and her art. I was immediately grabbed by her work. Within days of receiving images of a selection of her drawings and paintings, I offered her the opportunity to show her new work as one of the extended series of exhibitions that The Study Gallery of Modern Art, Poole is presenting at Lighthouse, Poole Centre for the Arts.
The exhibition is just three weeks away. I look forward to seeing the completed works that I saw in progress two months ago at Akram's studio in Street, Somerset and, with slightly nervous curiosity and excitement, to finding out whether public reaction to the exhibition will prove to be largely as I expect: in its unfamiliarity, a mix of somewhat aghast, negative and prejudiced comment, counter-balanced by fascination, intrigue and a sense of 'at lastness.'
The latter is a way of saying that I believe there is a re-awakened and genuine public desire to see 'fine art' that addresses the social, cultural and political issues that are particular to our time and especially those which currently confront us daily.
Although we encounter the news in widely different visual forms - for example, contrast the immediate, fuzzy, video phone news emailed by public witnesses to events and said to be more democratic news-gathering on the one hand, and the cooler and generally more authoritative video documentary on the other - these images are rarely edited for viewing in public spaces or via mass media from the points of view and context of indigenous citizens, migrants or exiles.
Too rarely we encounter and consider events in a form that has brought together both a reactive and reflective sense of personal experience through a creative process. Arguably, despite many events and campaigns we have generally lost regular exposure to what philosophically we consider to be a primary means of human communication - figurative, fine art - 'drawing.'
In the two series of paintings, Hammam (Persian word for public bath) and War, Akram contrasts the tradition and intimacy of female bodies in the public baths to the shocking, de-humanised images of the current conflict in Iraq.
That there is both irony and a comic-tragic sub-text to the selection of works is at the heart of my enthusiasm for it. That some works integrate or juxtapose and others separately contrast elements of Islamic and Western traditions in art is another.
Whilst I am intrigued by the resulting interplay of aesthetics, issues and stories that are partly real and partly fictional, it is exactly this fusion of extreme social situations combined with, for example, naive drawing and intricate decoration that I expect to challenge and unsettle many lay viewers. I expect this visual awkwardness to be at the root of any prejudice and 'gut-reaction' to the subject matter that is expressed. For such viewers, the subject matter will be seen as secondary to the perception that the graphic figuration is not approached photographically.
This reflects a cultural fundamentalism that is still disappointingly prevalent in our society - perhaps largely now confined to one or two generations - despite the reforms and changes in the education system that statutorily requires our young people to 'encounter art from different periods and cultures and to use these experiences to inform their own work.' Despite also the extraordinary rise in popularity of contemporary art in the UK. Akram's work is a great expression of assimilation that compares and contrasts ideas and issues through composition, design and technique. It hits hard at the dilemmas and fractures that our society displays at the whole complexity of issues concerning the West and the Middle East. This is exactly why more work like this should be produced, seen and discussed. As we know well, consideration of the human condition expressed through analysis, reflection and the creative personality of drawing can be a powerful force for change.
Jem Main-Director / Curator The Study Gallery of Modern Art, Poole
Exhibition organised by The Study Gallery of Modern Art, Poole. Presented at Lighthouse, Poole Centre for the Arts.