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Visiting Artists Lecture #3 - Ayad Alkadhi

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Visiting Artists Lecture #3 - Ayad Alkadhi

Bailey Haack
28 February 2013

Ayad Alkadhi's artist talk was what I wish I could hear from more artists. He spoke about his inspirations, techniques, and goals of his work in a way that was easily understandable and gave me a deeper understanding of him and his work.

He described the aim of his art as telling a personal story, rather than how the news media focuses on the "collective impact." It was interesting to see the way sin which he was able to focus his art in to deliver a personal, individual story. Many artists focus on larger ideas and issues, but sometimes they fail to bring it down to the personal level, so it remains less relatable to thos uninvolved in the issue.

I thought it was interesting how Ayad discussed his take on addressing women's issues - many people would way that , as a man, he cannot fully understand what women are going through, so he could not properly make art about it. However, he discussed how he sees himself as a sort of omnipresent storyteller, putting himself into other people's shows. He emphasized that his work, though controversial in topic, seeks "not to defend or attack," but rather, he urges the viewer to examine all the aspects surrounding a situation before passing judgement. I think artists sometimes become short-sighted and focus in too hard on the issue they want to explore, but forget to look at all sides of it first. Ayad's art addressed some deep cultural issues and his art told a story, but at the same time it did not seem to attack or punish - it simply told the story from the individual's level.

Many times with art, I am confused about exactly what the artist is trying to say with the piece. However, with Ayad's work, I felt that even without his explanation, I would have gotten the same messages out of it by just seeing it and knowing the titles. That is not to say that his work is simple - it is very deep and thoughtful in exploring some very multi-faceted issues - but I think his work is very effective in telling the story that he is trying to tell, rather than just looking beautiful.

Ayadi Alkadhi


I found Ayad Alkadi's talk to be very inspirational. He uses his artistic talents for a good way to tell stories of his cultural background and of people that have been affected by the war. I found the works of women holding pictures of their deceased sons to be very emotional. Even though their faces were not recognizable, the pieces were moving and sad.
The pieces I found to be most interesting were those that he incorporated Arabic calligraphy into. Even though you cannot read what it says even if you were a native speaker of Arabic, it is a nice addition to the faces he paints. Sometimes in his works he places this unreadable calligraphy over the mouths of his subjects as if he is trying to show that these people have no say in society.
Most of his subject matter is very heavy and dark, but in paintings such as those in the Quarter Gallery, he incorporates humor into them. Each is related to the Islamic person in a different country and the eye cut out of the burka is in the shape of an icon that is known to that country. For example, in the France painting the cut out was a croissant and for the United States painting the cut out is in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head. I enjoyed how different these works are than his other works that seem to be very similar. Personally, I think it would be interesting to see him do something that isn't of a human figure and maybe do something else that is iconic in the Islamic culture.

Ayad Alkadi


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

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