From 18 January to 18 February 2017 - Galerie Claude Lemand

Thierry Savatier, Khaled Takreti’s Universal Mothers. 27 January 2017.

Nietzsche claimed that: « to ide­alise our states of ill­ness, that is the artist’s goal ». In that respect, the recent evo­lu­tion of Khaled Takreti’s painting is quite Nietzschean con­sid­ering its inspi­ra­tion tran­scribes one of the dis­eases of the con­tem­po­rary world. This Syrian artist born in Lebanon has been working in Paris for the past ten years, after living in Egypt, Syria and America. His highly per­sonal style par­tic­u­larly focuses on the human figure and is easily recog­nised: it blends pop-art aes­thetics (with a predilec­tion for flat sur­faces and for polyp­tych for­mats that are some­times mon­u­mental), with monochrome back­grounds and with an irony that leads him to intro­duce strange, pic­turesque and some­times even zoomor­phic char­ac­ters, when he does not stage him­self in his work with a care­fully thought-out self-mockery approach.
Whether neu­tral or acid, colour was one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of his pre­vious paint­ings. Today, it is black that dom­i­nates, as if his palette of colours had been eroded by the attacks endured by his country of origin resulting from a poly­mor­phic con­flict the geopol­i­tics of which escape him. His Parisian exhi­bi­tion, Women and War, at the Galerie Claude Lemand (16, rue Littré) bears wit­ness to this change of style, show­casing around thirty works divided into two main themes.

On the ground floor, twelve female por­traits of iden­tical size (146 x 114 cm.) seem­ingly rep­re­sent the same number of Syrian cities. With their slender sil­hou­ettes, standing in the room and filling up the space, they silently stare at the viewer and stand out against a back­ground that darkens as the series unfolds: the por­traits are num­bered from 1 to 12. The chro­matic uni­for­mity is simply an illu­sion: sev­eral back­grounds and clothes hold some subtle plays on tex­ture that will only be noticed by the viewer passing by. One recog­nises the marks left by a fabric, an intri­cate embroi­dery. The faces are all dif­ferent yet serious, and express a wide range of feel­ings, sen­si­tivity, sad­ness, worry, dig­nity. The absence of pathos (the artist was careful in avoiding falling in that trap) gives an obvious power to these fig­ures that break away. Each of these women, whose diver­sity of social ori­gins can be guessed, can all claim the title of Mater Dolorosa, not in the reli­gious sense of the word but rather in its uni­versal meaning. Without doubt, the most uni­versal one is that which has been reduced to a skeleton and hence unavoid­ably stripped bare of any anthro­po­log­ical or social mark.

At the base­ment level, a beau­tiful space houses around ten India ink works on paper, two can­vases and a dip­tych that depicts the the­matic of the bundle. The painter does not dis­tance him­self from the series of the ground floor, on the con­trary he com­ple­ments it, as for Syrian women, the bundle rep­re­sents the nomad’s attribute par excel­lence. It is easy to pack and to travel with, and it accom­pa­nies escapes, migra­tions, car­ries mem­o­ries and her­alds a new depar­ture. The white fabric of these bags of for­tune is pro­duced in Hama (a city located between Homs and Aleppo) and is printed with typ­ical black motifs that are repro­duced by hand using stamps, fol­lowing a tra­di­tional method.

We would be looking in vain for a polit­ical mes­sage in these very recent works as the painter’s crit­ical stare is sig­nif­i­cant only if he frees him­self from the resis­tance fighter’s prism. The aes­thetics and stasis of these fig­ures haunt us yet the most impor­tant impact is their human tes­ti­mony that also encour­ages to look again at Khaled Takreti’s older works, that were char­ac­terised by a cer­tain humour which was a form of ‘polite­ness of despair’ for the artist, to use Chris Marker’s mas­terful def­i­ni­tion.

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Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess.


ART ABSOLUMENT . Interview with Khaled Takreti.

Tom Laurent : In your works, your gaze on society appears to be some­times ironic, espe­cially in the stylis­ti­cally ‘pop art’ com­po­si­tions, yet at the same time there seems to be an auto­bi­o­graph­ical dimen­sion, fea­turing some very inti­mate ele­ments. As you are now living in Paris, how do you express your past expe­ri­ence with a more dis­tant per­spec­tive of your country of origin, Syria ?
Khaled Takreti: Everything in me is fil­tered by my art. I come to accept and under­stand things through this means. I make them more con­crete. The sit­u­a­tion in my country is so dif­fi­cult that it is nec­es­sary for me to mourn in order to con­tinue to live.

T.L.: In the large com­po­si­tion The Refugees, we can spot Aylan, the Syrian child whose pho­tograph caused con­tro­versy and shook the con­sciences. Aylan has become a symbol but he was also an indi­vidual. He does not appear at the centre of your work but rather as an ele­ment within your oeuvre. Was that a con­scious choice?
K.T.: There are hun­dreds, thou­sands of people who lost their lives, whether on the ground or during the migra­tions. Aylan’s image was put into the spot­light, he became a symbol, but he is a victim just as impor­tant as all the others. In the com­po­si­tion of that painting, he is placed in the lower right quad­rant but the empty space around him makes him stand out. He is the focus of the work, despite him not being placed at the centre, the area that draws our gaze to enter into the pic­to­rial space. I gave Aylan a very defined role here, that of the door which opens up on the mul­ti­tude.

T.L.: Do you con­sider your painting as a vehicle to release your emo­tions?
K.T.: When someone dies, we can ask our­selves why do we need to go see his corpse and then bury it… and why do we need to attend the funeral? For me, the pur­pose is to believe it… to realise that the person is gone. The corpse’s reality and that of the tomb allow that. The same thing occurs in my painting: I need to see with it, with my own eyes, other­wise I can nei­ther accept nor believe.

T.L.: What is the origin of your series ‘Women and War’ ?
K.T.: What is cur­rently hap­pening in Syria trig­gered a child­hood memory in me. It is the second time that I live through a time of war. During the first time, I was only eleven years old, it was the Lebanese civil war. I remember seeing a woman who was trying to save her son and her mother. I saw the woman trans­form her­self, for­get­ting all seduc­tion, to become that being who fights for life. When war broke out for the second time, it revived that image in me. I there­fore worked on dif­ferent aspects of the woman, finding inspi­ra­tion in only one woman, my mother, because her story sounds like the one I just men­tioned. I cre­ated dif­ferent types of women, who are asso­ci­ated to sev­eral Syrian cities and I hope that they will be remem­bered as well as the sto­ries of their lives. I also wanted to express all of this through my paint­ings as the sub­ject is much deeper than the dis­tance and the gap which can be seen in my pre­vious works.

T.L.: Which cities do these women specif­i­cally incar­nate?
K.T.: The first point to make is that their elon­gated sil­hou­ettes alludes to death, to statues and to their memo­rial aspect. They per­sonify the his­tory of an entire war and the spirit of our cities. There is Hama, Aleppo, Palmyra, Homs… Damascus is rep­re­sented by the woman wearing a head­scarf, which brings her a form of dig­nity: she is the ulti­mate mother, with a dia­mond brooch, who would not go out dressed in any other way, ele­gant, simple and reserved. For the last work of the series, I first painted a woman which I then in some ways ripped apart bit after bit until there was only the skeleton left, who only has one lung still breathing and who is united with her child until death tears them apart.

T.L.: The Bundles also convey this mourning…
K.T.: When there is war, there is unavoid­ably migra­tions. Everybody has already felt once in their life that longing, that need to go away, to leave every­thing to start over their life some­where. The Bundles are like a new start, as I look at the pos­i­tive side of it and as a way of remem­bering. The fabric’s pat­tern is made in only one city, Hama, located south of Aleppo. The pat­tern is gen­er­ally printed by hand, with the help of black stamps on white fabric and was orig­i­nally a motif derived from daily life, being simply a fabric used to dec­o­rate homes. The pat­tern itself is not sym­bolic. It was my own deci­sion to use it as an allu­sion to half-mourning, where the black and white are inter­twined. I put aside the colours and the irony of my older works to talk about these sub­jects, in which the migra­tion of peo­ples recalls my own story.

Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess.

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