Monday, 16 December 2013

"Speak yourself"

Is this the quintessence of what art is all about? 

Zwewla, November 28, 2013, in Siliana.
"Speak yourself"

Except, it could not be any farther from what art is supposed to be - in theory.

The painting consists of two layers. A background of random color bombing onto the wall to symbolize the authorities' need to give up their control. On top of that the precision of the stencil with the representation of the vocal cords at the center. Almost violent in their black and white shadowing with paint running from them. A painting on what a painting cannot do. Movement and sound.

And yet the vocal cords are portrayed with such violence that we feel the strain in our own vocal cords when confronted with it. It is a head calling, screaming, singing out. Botho Strauss has a wonderful scene in his "Wohnen Dämmern Lügen" in which a singer performs Das Lied von der Erde with all movement, all power concentrated around her mouth, her vocal cords tense all the way down to the collarbones. Her mouth is framing that unbelievable gift of music, she becomes the singer in our place, the concentration of human sound on a grander scale.

In our place so much so that we partake in the sounding of the artist. Which make artists so dangerous to have around for controlling authorities, and the vocal cords an ultimate symbol of what must be silenced. The poor Willis' predicament is all about the solid black cutting through the drawing:

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, November 29, 2013, at
"AMMAR 404 is watching you!"
A decree gives (the newly established Technical Agency of Telecommunication) ATT
 the possibility to monitor the internet.
- This is to protect you from wicked terrorists

But the vocal cords are but the final canalization of what lies underneath. Sound is created with the whole body, given force by in this instance: Anger. 

The mural was made for Siliana on its situation of poverty a little over a fortnight ago. In the video below the members of Zwewla underlines their aim to show the indignity of poverty, and to this end the importance of not using the language of politicians and intellectuals. The language of murals is a way of expressing oneself in a simple language, inviting everybody to do the same. A visually direct proof that opinions are for everyone, not just for an official voice. Speak yourself says the tag immediately over the head crying out above, with the text on the mural in its entirety:

"Speak yourself, speak about your problem, you don't need an intermediate"

So in theory the call for action is as far from traditional aesthetics as can be, and yet this is art at its most vibrant. Today Oussama cut through when I tried to pinpoint his possible theoretical inspirations:

Change happens from reality, not from books.

Tomorrow we see the third anniversary of the act that ignited the Arab spring, when Mohamed Bouazizi set light to himself in Sidi Bouazid. Which is also the hometown of one of the two opposition leaders murdered this year, Mohamed Brahmi. It has been speculated if it may prove an angry day.

Zwewla, November 28. 2013, for Siliana.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

"Everything can be excused apart from the drawing!"

It was so sad not hearing his voice, because you rarely got in many words when he was around. Yesterday my brother and I paid our last respects to our one-of-a-kind uncle who passed away last Sunday. We had a quiet time with him at the chapel reading him poems by Nizar Qabbani and Aboul-Qacem Echebbi and all the while he looked as if he fought to sit up to have his say because a new idea had just popped up.

All children should have such an uncle. He was an incorrigibly curious intellectual, always asking, always playing with possible explanations. He would pose at least two hypotheses to you on the phone. When it was possible to reach him by phone, that is. He was a specialist on the Middle East and when he gave sound, it was usually from some new place between the Mediterranean and Afghanistan from where he would refer to a handful of languages, noting the development of certain words from one language to another, which might indicate…(insert next hypothesis here)...

- and so it was a shock to him when fundamentalists were gaining ground by the end of the 1980s. But true to form he insisted on meeting each fundamentalist on his way in an open discussion, carrying various editions of the Quran with him to point out discrepancies and at least try to shatter the one-eyed certainty of the one he was talking to - it was never an opponent or adversary, because he included you in the unfolding of his thoughts, he never accused the one before him. The very essence of the difference between the thinking being and this specimen:

Yahia Boulahia: La Fatwa du jour, December 11, 2013.
Moncef Marzouki gives presidential amnesty to 79 prisoners.
- Everything can be excused apart from the drawing!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Strange Kind of Love


Doaa Eladl: Art Dictator Industry, October 27, 2013.
- to be read from the right, do we want to worship the gods we created ourselves?
- but if read from the left, perhaps a fitting morale...


Kære Ven,
Du spørger, efter vores TV udsendelse igår aftes,  hvad jeg har imod Richard Winthers hus, nu åbnet som museum i Vindeby på Lolland???

"To the Warmongers"

"I am back again from hell
With loathsome thoughts to sell;
Secrets of death to tell;
And horrors from the abyss (…)

Mohammed Khaled. Photo: Kalb Balady, November 17, 2013.

"(…) Young faces bleared with blood,
Sucked down into the mud,
You shall hear things like this,
Till the tormented slain
Crawl round and once again,
Moan out their brutish pain (…)"

Mohammed Khaled. Photo: Kalb Balady, November 17, 2013.

The quoted lines above open the poem To the Warmongers by Siegfried Sassoon were written when he was wounded in hospital in 1917. A poem of a young man having seen too much to an extent that it becomes an existential question whether this is life? Is this what lies at the core of human life which we usually do our best to hide, or is this what should never be? Are these the eyes of someone who has seen the truth?

Mohammed Khaled, detail. Photo: Kalb Balady, November 17, 2013.

To which there are no answers and yet the first answer lies right in front of us: The atrocities of World War I were manmade. Someone was culpable just as they are responsible in Egypt today, a new set of warmongers in military uniform, this time when meeting the protesters on the street with force.

The existential exclamation points a direct political finger on the responsibility. Above his eyes are staring and yet they are empty, and the emptiness is underlined by the rings of ink onto which a softer brush has posited a shadowy layer so that we are affronted by a shadow even before we seek his gaze. It is not healthy to look at him.

Mohammed Khaled has taken up the glove thrown by the poets and artists who knew the horrors of the First World War: How to get as close to the fact as possible.

Otto Dix, Verwundeter (Herbst 1916, Bapaume) / Wounded Soldier (Autumn 1916, Bapaume), 1924. Photo at

Mohammed Khaled as Otto Dix before him is laying out the story with the brush, the bodies are disintegrating, making them call out all the more forcefully:

Mohammed Khaled, detail. Photo: Kalb Balady, November 17, 2013.

The line itself has sound, it is a roar. When I see the work of Mohammed Khaled, I cannot help thinking of the German voice coach, Alfred Wolfsohn. His techniques are still in use today and I for one was taught a couple of them when I voice-trained. Wolfsohn too worked on his experiences from the trenches of First World War, when he had heard human sounds beyond all boundaries. The young wounded screaming from No Man's Land, from where no one could get to them to save them. Noises that were violent in character, human voices that had lost all limitations.

Mohammed Khaled. Photo: Kalb Balady, November 22, 2013.

The canvases by Mohammed Khaled are all the more impressive by taking the graphic medium that we are confident with in the tiny format, meeting us in 1:1 on paper, onto the large scale. Mohammed says he would have used larger canvases, could they be had. But there is inspiration to be had in art history, where canvases have been sewn or glued together for many centuries. The massive work is then taken off its frame and rolled together when it is to be moved, such as Picasso's Guernica was when it was traveling in Scandinavia in 1938. Is it sadly time for the Guernica of this century?

Mohammed Khaled. Photo: Kalb Balady, November 22, 2013.

Of course nothing compares in the size to architectonic walls. Such as the presently dazzle painted wall of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, where the military insistence for the past 150 years on invisibility and colorlessness has been affronted. The first to initiate the dazzled surface was Mohammed Khaled. He chose to portrait two specific personalities who are one-eyed since the violence of January 25, 2011. Underneath we see the outline of one, who lost his life, whereas the blinded eye has turned into an exposing light more powerful than ever. It is a challenge: Look at the anger you have created:

Mohammed Khaled, "Eyes of Freedom"Photo: Kalb Balady, November 19, 2013.

 "(…) And the wounds in my heart are red,
For I have watched them die."

- the concluding lines of To the Warmongers by Siegfried Sassoon. All photos are courtesy of the artists and their photographers and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

On the Importance of Not Obeying

Lately I have been involved in at once very difficult and very positive dialogues with ALS-patients, who feels the time is creeping closer when they have to make the decision whether to choose a ventilator. It is a choice between life and death, and there is no simple answer to the question.

However, as many doctors are against ventilators, they are very persuasive in talking their patients out of it. Consequently the said doctors are at worst putting themselves into the position of Higher Beings with the word to decide for or against:

Doaa Eladl, December 14, 2012.
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