In his talk Ayad Alkadi spoke about feeling an obligation to give voice to the stories of those behind the headlines. As Americans we hear so much about what is going on in the Middle East, but rarely do we hear the personal stories of the individuals who are suffering from war, dictatorship, occupation, and the like. Alkadi feels a responsibility to help us learn these stories, to give a face and a voice to that helps us to better understand their struggles and experiences.
Alkadi's paintings are extremely moving and technically exquisite. All of them (at least from what I have seen) include human figures, and faces which from a distance look photographed, though never static. Over them is Arabic script, sometimes individual phrases or sentences, but more often writing that covers the whole canvas, either behind or superimposed over the figure or figures. The writing is used as a visual element more than for its literal meaning. It conveys that the person in the painting has a story, a history, thoughts, something to say. It seemed that many in the audience had a hard time understanding that they were not missing anything from the experience of the work by being able to read and understand what the words say. It made me think about when I listen to world music, to "feel" the music I don't have a need a translation of the lyrics. The sounds of the words are enough to convey something to me. I think it is similar in these paintings, the visual of the calligraphy alone conveys what the artist wants to convey through its inclusion. I do think that in both cases (paintings and songs) it is natural to be curious about what the words mean, but to me that is something else, knowing would satisfy the curiosity, but not make me better understand or get more out of the painting or song.
It seems Alkadi almost always does his paintings in series. Each work he presented in his slide show was introduced as one out of a series, with the series emphasized first. This struck me, as many artists will talk about the movement or evolution of their work, but do not always present them or seem to think of them as a formal series.
The subject matter of Alkadi's painting was often wrenching, even those that incorporate humor, such as the ones on exhibit in the Quarter Gallery with "cut outs" (so to speak) of cultural icons meant to represent different countries, the Queen of England, George Washington and even a croissant. These on the one hand have a certain lightheartedness, though the painting overall does not hold onto it. Their pop culture aspect is in juxtaposition to a veiled woman and brings into glaring view a certain alienation.
I also loved Alkadi's comments that made it clear that as an artist he is willing to try anything that suits his purpose. For example, when asked about his ability to do the beautiful calligraphy in his paintings, his response was that he did not approach it as a calligrapher but as an artist with the script as his form. (He explained it much more clearly.) Or when woman asked him about how he did the stitching exactly, and basically he just said that artistically the work needed thread so he put it in. If his work calls for something he figures out a way to do it by giving it a try. I liked that, that he didn't feel he needed any special skill, he just needed to do what needed to be done.
- Allison Ruby