Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Modern Middle East Through the Eyes of Mohammed El Sadoun

The Modern Middle East Through the Eyes of Mohammed

By Maymanah Farhat

Mohamad El Sadoun , Farhat  Art Museum Collection

   Iraqi artist Mohammed Al Sadoun has been engaging viewers with multifaceted explorations of Middle Eastern history and sociopolitical issues for thirty years. His work has been exhibited in international art exhibitions since 1975.

Al Sadoun was born in 1958 and raised in southern Iraq. He received
by Mohammed Al Sadoun - Courtesy of Station Museum.
a BFA from the University of Baghdad in 1979 and an MA in art education from the University of Hartford in Connecticut in 1986. Soon after, he began teaching art at Iraqi universities. In 1989 he was invited to Japan where he exhibited consistently for three years. In 1999 he received his PhD from Ohio State University in art education and has been teaching in the United States ever since. His contributions to the progression of the Contemporary Arab art movement include conceptual pieces, paintings, publications, comprehensive research and countless lectures on the evolution of the movement.

Mohammed El Sadoun , Farhat Art Museum Collection

Al Sadoun's artwork maintains his dedication to Contemporary Arab art through the constant challenging of the movement's artistic boundaries. In such works as Burnt Door #1, 2005, What I Remember, 1991, and Untitled #1, 2005, Al Sadoun uses unconventional materials and concepts in provocative works that call attention to the complexity of the modern Middle East.

The concept for Burnt Door #1 evolved in the summer of 1986 during the Iraqi war with Iran. While working in his Baghdad studio one day, Al Sadoun heard a strong explosion that shook his downtown neighborhood. Upon investigation, he came across burning houses that had been hit by an Iranian missile. The impact of the missile left beautiful Baghdadi windows and doors burning, leaving Al Sadoun with anger that haunted him, and forcing him to return to the site later that evening. When he returned he found a burnt door. When asked about the impact of the burnt door, Al Sadoun recounts, "I was very interested in the color, texture and accidental fragmentations of the burning in that door, so I took the door to my studio and started working on it. I entered that door in the first Baghdad International Festival of Art in 1986 even though I was afraid that the selection committee might reject it because that kind of art was unknown and unpopular during that period." In 1989, the door was selected for the Iraqi Contemporary exhibition held at the Arab Institute in Paris.

Mohammed El Sadoun , Farhat Art Museum Collection

 Al Sadoun continues to create such pieces using found doors, fuel,
latex, wall paint, acrylic, glues and fire. He involves viewers in the artistic process by burning doors in front of a live audience. The result is an intensely personal experience that captures the horror and devastation of war. Through the process, Al Sadoun and his viewers become perpetrators of the brutal destruction of the aged door. The door is seized, violently assaulted, and then left in a state of disrepair, undecipherable from its original condition. Al Sadoun's doors stand as testimonies of the cataclysmic nature of war and the countless victims that subsequently result.

What I Remember was created during the first Gulf War while Al Sadoun was working in Japan. After viewing the bombing of Iraq by American forces on television, he was overcome by a profound sense of sadness and nostalgia for his native country. The painting resulted from the intensity of his emotional state during this time. While working in an abandoned building that functioned as his studio, he discovered a 19"x27" piece of metal, the quality of which he thought was ideal for a scene depicting the bombing of Iraq.

Mohammed El Sadoun , Farhat Art Museum Collection

The composition of What I Remember is simple; a sole plane devoid of a target is shown releasing bombs. There is no indication of Iraq being the subject matter of the piece. Al Sadoun leaves it to the viewer to make his/her own conclusions as to the time and place of his depiction. Given the complicated history of political affairs over the past century, Al Sadoun's scene is pertinent to numerous conflicts. What is made clear is a distinct sense of solitude and ruin. The landscape of the scene lies in abstraction, unrecognizable from the weathered metal. The worn texture of the metal is integrated into the composition through the onerous use of a dark color palette. His recollection of Iraqi houses, whose walls are rich in texture and graphite, inspired such a technique.

Al Sadoun's scene encapsulates a dreamlike reality; the viewer is drawn into the difficult process of remembrance. There is an inescapable sense of desolation conveyed in What I Remember, in which Al Sadoun captures the abandonment of a people left to face the atrocities of war. The scene is chilling yet is an imperative form of commentary on the current state of global affairs, intended to convey the tragedy of violent conflicts.

Untitled #1 is a concept that Al Sadoun has been exploring in recent years. A stack of books is tied with rope to a chair then painted with acrylic paint. In some instances, as in Untitled #1, Arabic writing appears scattered along the entire piece. Notions of education are insinuated through the use of a chair and books while the application of rope and paint join the found objects as one uniform body, constricted to the scrutiny of the viewer's glance.

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