Fearless Monumentality

Today marks WillisfromTunis' third anniversary, and while we are shouting Williiiiiis on t'aiiiiiime!!!!! - it is an opportunity to revise an old blog post and take a closer look at a cat we would sorely have been without these past three years:

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, December 17, 2013:
(President) Marzouki, (Prime Minister 2013-14, member of the Ennahda) Laarayedh
and (President of the Assembly in charge of drawing up the constitution,
which we shall finally see this January?) Ben Jaafar are absent
 from the third anniversary of the revolution for security reasons…
- What a band of cowards!
- and we, who wanted to give you presents
… and kisses….
Note, how cleverly the resounding of the words des bisous in itself adds innocence to the scene

The drawing above marks the third anniversary of the day Bouazizi set fire to himself in December 2010, while the drawing below is from the second day of WillisfromTunis' existence almost three years before in January 2011, when Bouazizi died of his wounds and the protests began to spread, culminating on January 13:

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, January 14, 2011.
 - The downfall of a banana republic caused by a banana vendor…
there is s certain justice in that.

The unique art work of art meets its beholder in 1:1. The work is created for the concentrated confrontation with the viewer. This is in other words his level:

Edouard Manet, Parisian, 1874,
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The Parisian by Manet is a force. Not only through her sheer physical size. She overtakes the room in which she confronts the beholder at the same time as she steps back from the surface of the picture plane because she did not seek us in the first place and see no reason to explain herself to us. It is us who are drawn to her, and has anyone ever been able to remember afterwards any others in the room with her?

Art history refers to her as an example of Modernism's break with the characteristics and the game of illusions on a surface. She was not the first, though, her inspiration was quite a bit older, and Velázquez's portrait is even naughtier by allowing him to nail us by making eye contact:

Diego Velazquez: Pablo de Valladolid, 1636/37,
Museo del Prado.

So Willis is in good company, in direct line from the most daring masters of art history: Those who broke the rules by not disguising the picture plane behind a veil of figurative elements to negate the nature of the painting as painting.

They are all confronting us. Not drawing us in, but confronting us with our own world and its illusions, never letting us giving us a dream on the picture plane that we could lose ourselves in. The illustration below is from Willis' first evening and while Nadia Khiari let the drawings keep coming on Facebook testing if or when the line to the world outside would be shut down, this one turned out to be the first drawing where Willis took on a direct confrontation. This is Willis only, looking directly at us, with no hint of figurative elements on the picture plane.

WillisfromTunis on the very night of January 13, 2011:
Following the speech by Ben Ali promising freedom,
all the 404 not found-pages were suddenly found.
Free access to all porn pages!
- So what, I have long been castrated...

Porn sites tend to be the excuse to use a filter. This was the drawing in which I for my part as a naïve northern European learned that the code Error 404 may indicate a blocked page.

Speech too had been encoded in the form of metaphors before the revolution. With fear as a constant in all human relations. Speaking in direct sentences is then the triumph. Willis never appeals for an answer, he talks himself. The direct language has a poetic dimension by playing with words across two language families and new concepts are constantly thrown at us with Dégagé! as the epicenter.

"Dégagé" won an award as the keyword for the year 2011. It was used throughout the Arab Spring, but became emblematic of the revolution in Tunisia. The word can mean to leave, go, release what is stuck, retain, cleaning, weeding or clearing out and thus, as the grand old man of the French language, the linguist Alain Rey, concluded when he justified the price, it was also the symbol of elimination of all fear.

Willis transforms Dégagé! into imagery. He has given the revolution a face before it knew it was a revolution and while he is the same cat, he is the testimony that there is still a long way to go. He stands head on to test whether each new statement is possible. He is the direct outcome of the free speech made possible, never certain whether his words will be allowed and so giving it his all. Putaiiin!

The creation of a civil alliance against violence and for freedom!
- To oppose them we create an alliance so vile to violate freedom!
- you cannot do any better?
- to free violence?

Willis is a performance. Nadia Khiari refers herself to the French mixed media around 1968, when everything was to be tried and nothing was too much: From stand-up (Pierre Desproges and Coluche) the collages of advertising on print, cut to pieces and created into new combinations in magazines (Hara Kiri, since 1970 named Charlie Hebdo) and the drawn, twisted existence with the cigarette and a one-liner always on the lip (Philippe Vuillemin).

But there is also a sense of a condensation of a later date. Willis is a punker, the confrontational raw voice in the raw drawing. He has the timing of a stand-upper, for instance, which adds timing and direction to the roughness of what is said. The words have been framed in speech bubbles of increasing angularity and of the same texture as his own contour.

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, September 20, 2011:
 "- Well, Willis? How are you holding up against the pressure, the uncertainty,
the Bearded (the Salafists), the threats and political instability?
- I do drugs."
Willis the Drogue Addict in good company with Manet's Absinthe Drinker, 
his words locked into the broad cool of his jaw.

Before January 2011 created Nadia Khiari psychedelic universes in bold colors with chimeras of composite animals and a feeling of something suppressed and sick in the adventures before us. Imagery on a society in which everything had to be suppressed. Suddenly we were confronted by a punker cat in a bold black line, and when we look at the drawings from the first year, we instantly note that the development was in place from the very first drawing. Willis turns a bit more compact with time, but he was Willis as we know him from the very first, the language already fully formed. Nadia Khiari was a voice that was more than ready now that it was permissible to discuss the hallucinations:

28 days later….16 months later….Constitutiiiooon…
And we are still waiting for the constitution, this month they say?

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