Sabha  Kites and Shattered Dreams  Oil on canvas 150x60cm 2008  Barjeel Collection  UAE

Sabha Kites and Shattered Dreams Oil on canvas 150x60cm 2008 Barjeel Collection UAE

In this latest series of paintings by Maysaloun Faraj, at least seven unique geometries: Palm - Child - Kite - Heart - Solar/Lunar (Circular & Spherical geometry) - Tears and Blood Drops (kinetic/ gravitational geometry) trace with their lines, planes, volumes and movement in a healing aesthetic that counters the terrors and disorientation of invasion, war and occupation. Easily recognizable, these symbols she deploys freely. Calligraphy, the geometry of the spirit is present throughout as an essential layer upon which Maysaloun (architect by training) constructs the vision presented in these paintings. But, it is the geometry newly derived, emanating from a Mesopotamian and Universal understanding of what these symbols mean that is the achievement commanding attention here. Despite the horrific situation of Iraqi women, five years into occupation, these paintings are not sad or defeatist. These paintings are also about power, that of woman and Iraqi women in specific. They are therefore also about life and living, beauty and fertility, faith, love and more not less in the face of loss.  Clearly these are emotionally charged and symbolic paintings that have paradoxically both raw and refined qualities. Impassioned with a near naïve sensibility, they are made brave by the cynicism of our age steeped as it is in the fashion of the self. Amongst the clearly defined symbols in these art works is the heart; possibly the best known over-used and commercialized of symbols; all too easily considered romantic, sentimental, trivialized and exploited. This is bravery on the part of an artist as sophisticated and experienced as Maysaloun to handle so explicitly.  Only a few instances of fine art success in representing this symbol stand out e.g. the brilliant American printmaker and happening artist, Jim Dine[1] (Vietnam era) appropriated the heart with a complex and tortured signature treatment. Maysaloun embraces the nature of the symbol and composes from its body her geometry of compassion with significant presence and grace, given the brutality of the Iraq situation.  Modern warfare’s vicious trigonometry and destructive disorder (creative disorder does exist especially in art) is confronted and the reality drowning Iraq in grief, engaged with. Missiles that are supposedly smart and certainly expensive have a grotesque and tangible geometry of chaos, destruction and death. Their shock waves expropriate the ageless gravity of tears and blood from which Maysaloun constructs a resisting geometry of compassion.  The missiles are contained; locked in shapes a child may draw. The geometry of violating projectiles in these paintings are the black banners of mourning they leave behind, defining lines of separation that cut the picture plane. 

Munira  Kites and Shattered Dreams  Oil on canvas 45x35cm 2008 Breish Collection UK

Munira Kites and Shattered Dreams Oil on canvas 45x35cm 2008 Breish Collection UK

There is depth and complexity to each work that gives more at every viewing. A very strong big heart is needed to bear the pain and suffering and survive war to bear again in joy the promise of life. These paintings do not forget the enchanted hard won blessings of the land beyond its politics that gives them birth, however ugly and distorted the reality today.  The beauty of a country we once knew and still cherish comes through and in this is a reaffirmation of our promise in sense and memory an awakening from evil induced stupor. By way of her disciplined use of the symbol, these images are saved from falling hostage to the revulsions of war and conflict. There are no screaming faces or huddled forms. The setting is a garden; perhaps an urban orchard or rural bustan; it does not matter, for the spaces defined are quintessentially Iraqi, violated without differentiation or mercy. And again her art rescues from despair and presents us with abequest of confidence that is urgent and firm. I see reflections and mirroring but no shadows and feel that these gardens, despite the terror have taken into themselves the vital colours drained out by Iraq’s mourning in trust of and for better times. What more can we ask of painting then that the name also be its becoming; each painting in the series is named after an Iraqi woman that Maysaloun brings together into a vast heart paying homage; healing in a shared humanity that claims the natural right of each, individually to a future. I would like to refer here to a young Iraqi woman, Mayassah al-Sader[2] who upon seeing the painting titled Munira said,"The strings that tie the kite to a child’s hand, tie the spectator's heart to the painting as a whole and to the subject in particular. They are like the strings of an Oud (Arabian Lute) playing a melody or lullaby from a distant past; each viewer will recollect their child-home melody.

Ishtar  Kites and Shattered Dreams  Oil on canvas 80x90cm 2008  Hussain Ali Harba Collection  Italy

Ishtar Kites and Shattered Dreams Oil on canvas 80x90cm 2008 Hussain Ali Harba Collection Italy

The painting expresses analogies by dividing the surface with a bold black line into unequal parts. This seems to signify a border separating binary milieus; night and day, dreams and reality, childhood and adulthood. Despite the lines boldness the two milieus overlap in the way old memories overlap current ones.” Mayassa eloquently describes the effect of what I have termed the Geometry of Compassion. This, of the 99 Names of Allah[3] is the most referred to in Islam. It is present in every Bismillah and in these works, I believe, it finds a visual expression offering service at time of great need. Of course, this is ‘only art’ and paintings ‘only objects’. But these have the virtuosity and sensitivity of talent reaching an inspirational peak. Each line, plane, tone and hue has significant weight and value imparting the paintings with the nuances of Maysaloun’s colours that, held by her creative geometry brings forth to view a rich and subtle narrative fed by many tributaries, each named with faith in continuity.

Rashad Selim (Salim) is Iraqi/German artist, cultural activist, researcher and writer working from London, also advisor to iNCiA.

[1] Born 1935, USA; moved to New York 1959, closely associated with Pop art; written and illustrated books of poetry.  Retrospectives of his work held at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1970) and the Museum of Modern Art, (1978) New York.  Dine lives in New York and Vermont.
[2] Architect and Landscape Historian with an MA in Architectural History from the Department of Architecture, University of Texas, Austin USA.
[3] Asma Allah al-Husna: The 99 Names of God as referred to in the Holy Quran.

© Maysaloun Faraj 2009-18