Monday, October 6, 2008

Tufts University Art Gallery: Empire and Its Discontents

Despite the fact that I am a fairly gung-ho employee of the Tufts Art Gallery, I'm sure I would have written about its marvelous current exhibit "Empire and Its Discontents" even if I didn't work there. Inspired by Edward Said's 1978 book Orientalism, it features contemporary artists from countries that have been affected by colonialism, and whose work examines the mixture of Eastern and Western cultures. There are ten artists in all, with a related exhibition downstairs, "Contrapuntal Lines: Rania Matar and Buthina Abu Milhem" that has been similarly inspired. Most of the pieces use traditional mediums like painting, ink, photography, video, and sculpture, with one site-specific installation and one cardboard construction. It runs until November 23, and admission is free! If you're in the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville/Medford area, definitely check it out.

Kamrooz Aram has several paintings in the show, including this large-scale abstract narrative piece. You can really lose yourself in it.
I really dig Andisheh Avini's work. He has patterned sculptures that highlight the layering of Persian and American cultures over and under one another.

He also does really interesting collage-paintings that incorporate bleach to achieve a ghostly effect.

Pakistani artist Saira Wasim makes really complex miniature paintings in the Mughal style, with highly satirical political subjects. Her skill and humor shine equally.

One of my favorite works in the show is Egyptian artist Laura Baladi's photographic series The Surface of Time. There are about eight pairs of photos whose compositions depict the ruin and decay she has seen in Egypt since the rise of its current president, Hosni Mubarak, 25 years ago. I love the high saturation and sense of abandonment she captures in these empty rooms and vacated exteriors. I couldn't really find any other images online, unfortunately. You'll just have to see for yourself!

My other favorite piece is a video by French-Algerian artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah titled Black & White #2. In close-up, stop-motion-ish slowly fading shots, it depicts a woman in high-contrast black and white performing Muslim prayer motions with her hands. Google maps shift in the background with locations like Baghdad pin-pointed. In the background is heard "The Star Spangled Banner" in an accented voice. It can be oddly mesmerizing.

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung has the most visually stimulating piece with his audacious Presidential Erection, a cardboard cut-out focusing on Democratic and Republican presidential candidates and their supporters, with images entirely appropriated from the internet. It's really complex and bawdy, with tons of layers and little hidden images. I find myself staring at it unconsciously when I'm working, trying to identify all of the people and symbols. I like its double-sided aspect too. Apparently there's a video component (not in the exhibition, but it's on his website). He also has a pretty funny video/online game, Gas Zappers, on the New Media Wall.

Other artists include: Seher Shah, with stark black and white photo reconstructions focusing on religious iconography; the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, with some enlarged pages from her comic Persepolis; Mark Shetabi, whose installation A Persian Garden recalls his childhood memories of Iran in the late 1970's; and Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Aliabadi, who take common food and cleaning items and re-brand them with thought-provoking messages.

Further Reading:
Tufts Daily
Boston Phoenix

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