Thirty years of distance
change seems to have occurred in Resmi’s painting in the last year.
There seems to have been a two-fold sacrifice: a sacrifice of colour,
which had lit up his works of the late 90’s, in sumptuous and splendid
harmonies, from “The Tree of Life” to “The Embrace of the Tree” and a
sacrifice of matter, the matter rich in textures and romantic frissons
through which he had shown himself to be able, against the background of
the themes and motifs questioned by Neo-Expressionism, to sound a
distinctly individual voice, closer to the rarefied, spell-binding
executions of Ruggero Savinio. What has really happened, however, is
that by abandoning canvas for the evident, luminous grain of paper,
turning his back on the physicality of oil to embrace the weightless,
diaphanous transparency of monochrome water colour, Resmi has in a
certain way returned to his origins as an engraver, and substituted that
harmony of colours which he had slowly achieved with a more subtle
harmony which hangs between the deep black of shadow and the blinding
white of light.
He seems to have been led relentlessly back to black and white by
both the wish to represent emptiness through fullness – those “hands of
the wind”, to use the phrase of his friend the poet Saadi Youssef – and
the discovery of being able to cast a flux of energy into the emptiness
strung between light and air to reach the utmost peak. Or perhaps we
could say that it has brought him to what is a more spiritual and not
merely technical disposition which he has considered, not by chance,
from his distant origins, as being the most suitable for capturing and
developing naturally, with an emphasis on overlaps and inter-weavings,
the images observed in the world and the images springing from the mind.
Images which once transformed into works will be able to stimulate
emotions and pose questions.
Resmi may have been a long time coming to this consciousness of the
potential of black and white, but once reached, it has caused an
explosion in his artistic expression. After a period of doubt and
uncertainty, suddenly he has plunged into a phase of almost liberating
boundless energy, which as yet shows no signs of flagging. His work is
now dominated by a sureness of touch and by the revealing subtleties of a
technique which allows no second thoughts and demands swiftness of
execution, yet at the same time moves in a delicate balance between this
and the opposite yet equally necessary condition of silent
concentration. It is as though images long confined in his memory have
finally found a way out. Or perhaps it is rather that memory itself has
gained a state of peace and tranquility thanks to the distance which
black and white imposes.
Resmi is from Iraq, born in Diwanniya, and had already been active
in the art world for ten years when he was forced to leave his native
country for political reasons in 1977, when he was in his early
thirties. Since then, all that has remained with him of his native land
is only memory, the “beautiful memory”, in which he finds solace in
times of pain or difficulty. However, distance has not produced only
pain and time has not passed in vain; for another memory has slowly been
built up in the intervening thirty years, an Italian memory, in
particular a Tuscan memory. These two memories, dancing like soft veils
embroidered with different spaces and times, have begun to lie one over
the other, sliding and slipping to reveal unexpected contrasts but also
unexpected and rich similarities. The result has been a world which
unfolds before us through a flexible filigree of forms. Landscape-bodies
which open up telescopically onto other multiplied bodies and other
landscapes, at times floating on air and white light, at others
undulating with parched hills, at times dotted with trees which fade
into the distance as far as the eye can see. As our gaze follows these
forms we enter a dance of echoes, an Arab fairy tale where nothing is as
it seems, where every form is an emblem of a universe suspended between
earth and sky, but above all of a universe which is totally charged
with living forces. This is the “freedom of dreams” which Resmi had
already suggested in some of his earlier works and which here returns
even more concentrated through a kind of alchemical transformation of
the colours of the world, just as in the poetry of Saadi Youssef which
Resmi often transcribes in gold over the dark earth of his water
colours: “Night descends, blue, between staircases and stars. I see /
blue trees, abandoned streets, and a country / of sand. I had a home and
lost it. I had a home / and left it. How close the stars are! / They
cling to my steps. O blue trees, blue / woods, night! … “. Here
sacrifice and distance sublimate pain and by transforming the sense of
belonging to the land into a feeling of universal belonging. Beneath the
distant light of the stars every act of violence and every noise in the
world is sublimated, calmed, subdued and transformed: “Trees for
severed hands. Trees for the eyes / that were gouged. Trees for the
hearts turned to stone …”. The relentless presence of the natural forms
is alone sufficient to express a strong accusation and Resmi has
understood this by lining up the spiky Tuscan cypresses in the big
painting inspired by Pelizza di Volpeda’s “The Fourth State”
(1898-1901). But it is above all in “Thirty Years of Distance” that the
lyrical balance he has obtained soars up suddenly in an image of
stunning beauty: landscape and memory, dream and hope, the gaze slips
down from the incandescent white summit of a Tuscan hill, together with
the shadow of its light towards a form looming against the black sky. It
seems almost to be an ark and from its prow a tiny figure contemplates
the plain below inscribed with verse as far as the eye can see
disappearing into the far distance.
Resmi's watercolours expand over the precious Fabriano papers with a light touch. Muche like endless points between two extremes, he creates infinite hues in the spectrum between black and white: they are absorbed by the faceted paper in a discontinuous way, and their effects are higlighted by an unhomogeneous surface.
The letters of the Arab alphabet are abstract signs written on the paper without ever becoming a complete text. They can be translated into a speech made up of unrelated words, but we would imagine that they're all either ancient or very modern poetry, even if there is nobody capable of translating them for us. Likewise they look like stylised trees, universal signs that unite the languages and spirit of people. The Andalusiona Songs tell us the story of how the people of the Mediterranean Sea and of Mesopotamia clashed for millenniums but also established two civilizations capable of co-existing in conflict and symbiosis, one incapable of living without the other. The coming together of the two civilizations brought to fruition both scientific and philosophical monuments, and the exchange of goods gave rise to an aesthetic style which was the product of the two nations, because they are radicated in the same foundations.
On Resmi's black watercolour, slowly absorbed by the paper, you can see a pomegranate, the magic fruit Granada is named after, you can see the walls whose surfaces have been worn away by time over the centuries. Every now and then a small bird can be seen to settle upon the symbolic figures, and we can imagine the he's about to take flight again, to move on and sellte on another figure, further up the paper: an intimate self-portrait of Al Kafaji, forced to flee from Iraq many years ago further the persecution of the local regime.
The works of Resmi are permeated with the same spirit as Klee's watercolours, painted in the light of Hammamet: they are proof that artistic expression can be both very ancient and modern at the same time, they appeal to the sensitivity of modern man, as they have an ancient soul capable of migrating over the centuries, transforming themselves in every living moment.
Andalusion Songs by Iraqi artsit Resmi Al Kafaji: “I only ever used oil colours until recently, now I use just black, white and endless shades of grey, through which I see all tha colours of the world” the artist declared. In fact, when you look at his works, you feel like you are immerged in colour, blue, white and gold of the Iraqi mosques and minarets which stand out against the light blue sky.
Resmi's Andalusian Songs recall the “dreaming-tracks” of the Indigenous Australians (Bruce Chatwin, “The Songlines”, 1987): thousand of imaginary lines that cross an entire continent, ancestors who created their world through song, to sing means you exist and every song is a map.
Resmi's Andalusian Songs are evocative journeys that take you to countries and cultures, journeys that overlap, that go on until they turn into something else, recreating countries and worlds. Beautiful faceted paper and water help “extend” and dilute black ink which, when it dissolves and softens, is purified until it becomes bright and airy. The colour gray has so many shades that it can become blinging white, as blinding as Andalusia, aland of sun and diversity, houses of white and multicoloured flowers, small villages perched on the rocks and the air filled with the fragrances of citrus fruits, oil and music.
The artist moves from black to white, from dark to light, from devasted country, Iraq, to the passionate and sunny Andalusia. Arab literature and Arab calligraphy become an essential part of Resmi's work. Much like Andalusia, a “bridge between two continents”, his art becomes a point of contact between Iraq and Tuscnay, where he's been living since 1977, between Mesopotamia and Etruria, between the cypress and the pomegranate tree, symbols of death and rebirth.
InResmi's works the pomegranate has a prominent role: a fruit with a leathery peel and red grains on the inside, it is a symbol of fertility, wealth, majesty, vital energy: representative of good things created by Allah and fruite from the garden Paradise. The pomegranate recalls the italian Renaissance, with the “Madonna della Melagrana” painted by Botticelli and Leonardo, the work by Raffaello and the sculpture of Jacopo della Quercia.
Resmi spoke of his return to Iraq 30 years later: he found a land ripped apart by war and dictatorship, where the culture had been suspended, the Iraq he remembered had been swept away and maybe this was the reason he felt the need for silence, for a deeper contact with his inner nature, and the various tones of white, black and grey. He needed to “shy away” from colour in order to rebuild the memory that had been betrayed by reality, to accept that his place of origin had been injured by the events. “Everyday objects can become art, all you need to do is to observe them through the eyes of an artist” states Resmi (Tachidol -video), so let's listen the Andalusian Songs and go through them as if they were the dreaming-tracks.
“Everyone screams in silence
to be read differently”
Resmi told us how, in 2006, after having come back from a trip to Iraq (his 2nd after a 30-year exile brought to an end by the fall of the regime), his works were drained of all colour leaving just black and white. This new artistic vein (which is, in short, a summary of his vision), still maintains, and also includes the shooting of a video and its installations, even after 8 years, a strict and coherent style and concept. Through the natural changes in his artistic work, brought about through repeated strokes of the artist’s brush and enriched by technique and a poetic exploration of the chosen themes and subjects, we perceive one of the main motifs behind Resmi’s entire work, a theme that revolves around the infinite number of ways in which we can interpret the visible world around us. Shapes seen through one’s creative and speculative intellect make it impossible to have a neutral means of communication, whether they be words or shapes,and compel us to continually reconsider the real nature of our own ideas, people, space and objects around us.
Resmi is aware of the fact that, as a man with a past as political and intellectual activist, he is forced to stay away from a land where justice, freedom, and equality are words with a meaning which go beyond abstract concept.
Resmi, an artist and author who has chosen to carry out his life’s work through radical and substantial sacrifices, is an artist with a vibrant yet subtle perception of the world.
His passage through Europe has been marked by the need to struggle against the stereotypes which are so often attributed to foreigners. The way on which the exotic is commonly seen in a superficial way by the masses may also be found in Resmi’s works. Living in a foreign country calls for bothstrength and resistance, as well as the need to maintain a certain balance and independence of one’s artistic vision. Resmi’s choice to adopt the chromatic fullness of black and white are representative of the complexity of the artist himself, of his continuous struggle and the risks imposed by an unending search for common ground.
Every brush stroke already encases the next, just as every work of art can give rise to others. This is one of the characteristic traits which lies at the heart of Resmi’s work, the will to conserve an abstract dimension, or at east a dimension yet to be fully developed, through which the artist can go deeper to uncover new and wider horizons.
The artist’s main topics are flora and fauna which, in some way or another, can lead us back to either his native Islamic background or his adoptive Tuscan culture. Both have been absorbed by, and become part of, the artist’s poetic imagination, a balanced mix between past and present, between two regional cultures, which confer an autobiographical note, a memory, a symbol which can recall Iraq’s tormented history or the Tuscan landscape.
Sheep, cattle, watermelons, cypress trees, women and country landscapes all coming together to create rhythmic compositions in which nothing is hidden and in which nothing remains on a purely narrative plain. The frequent use of Arabic lettering, which at first sight might seem to be simply light brush strokes, appear to render Resmi’s intercultural references even more complex. The titles of the works themselves are a tribute to both European and Iraqi artists and call upon us to enter into the dialectic of the works where the artist’s final message is never to be taken for granted.
Exactly the same way as it is portrayed in the video, the last lido for Resmi Al Kafaji’s never-ending desire to experiment.
Resmi’s unending desire to experiment has led him to develop a video where his pictures appear to be a continuous flow of images. It is as if what we know to be immutable, is able to change and transform itself, allowing those who observe it to pose new questions and make fresh interpretations. As art always does.
Earth and Moon
On the path of Malevič’s suprematism, which, starting from its first black square on a white background, reached, what at the dawn of the 20th century, could be considered an expression of pure sensitivity, or the extreme limit of art. For most contemporary artists, the black and white, as opposing poles of the chromatic circle, have the power to generate an immediate tension in cancelling or evoking the form; one by its welcoming and containing function, the other in the emptiness of the absence of color.
For Resmi Al Kafaji, the use of black and white generates an architectural structure that reflects the foundations of the human microcosm, summarizing the lived experience but also overcoming the dual tension that pushes beyond the eye and mind to the unconscious search for deeper senses, for mysteries evoked by the perfect interlocking of the black and the white form, to better activate emotion and reason on a sort of initiatory journey within an undefined period of time.
“Terra e Luna” tells the story of an intellectual, capable of putting distance between the self and its context, permitting him to distance his own body from himself, while having the courage to look inside himself. The inner journey begins by undermining the obvious, shifting the starting point of the observation so as to make it coincide with an aerial perspective, as if looking at the Earth from the Moon, giving back to us geometric visions in the absence of color, sections of landscape as a sublime point, stylizing rolling hills or steep slopes, straight or winding paths, rivers, mountains, seas, and lakes, from the strongest sound and material sensations to the most rarefied and evanescent ones.
The aniconicity of the Islamic tradition, which the artist of Iraqi origin has absorbed from his homeland, merges into his work with the purity of Mediterranean classicism and the outcomes of the conceptual revolution of the historical avant-gardes, generating a balance of an emotionally intense and excruciating lyricism, in an environment dominated by the glorious perspective of logic and by instinctive and non-verbal sensitivity.
Al Kafaji’s painting draws strength from the visual perception of the abolition of colour and goes beyond the limits of the appearance of objects, guiding the spectator in a sui generis path, which transcends the “terrestrial” force of matter to reach the luminous lunar abstraction.
With refined pictorial methods, the artist reveals opposition to the chromatic system and, at the same time, shows the infinite relationships that white, black and grey entertain not only with light, with shadows and with the dark, but also with the other colors, their becoming the very same, with identical volume, and becoming matter. In this ‘iter’ of visions running in one direction or in another, seeking each time an unexpected balance and cultured suggestions. Resmi Al Kafaji appears as a cosmopolitan intellectual travelling, continually one step away from somewhere else.
Terra e Luna’ when the sign becomes the dream
In an historical moment, feverish, and dying for social and cultural relations, a good vaccine (definitely necessary) could convey the reading of the classic Calderòn De La Barca “Life is Dream”, itself a moralizing hyperbole on the control of one’s own bestial instincts, because nothing, not even individual reality, can be defined as obvious. The exhibition proposal by Resmi Al Kafaji “Terra e Luna” at the Studio38 gallery of Pistoia, the outgoing Italian city of Culture, curated by Ilaria Magni, is rather interesting.
In addition to the relevant point of view that, by and of itself, could be offered by an artist of Iraqi origin working in Italy for more than 40 years, the art of Al Kafaji ideally gathers a universal and immediate dimension, through a rich tendency to give predominance to graphic signs, specifying, with poetic sweetness in the drawing, that matrix common to all mankind. Suspended between the material body of the various pictorial aids (from oil to acrylic to the earth), as varied as humanity itself, and dreamlike suggestions both literary (the natural archetypes of sunsets and night) and artistic (the skies of Van Gogh and the landscapes of Rothko), “Terra e Luna” highlights a genuine research, not necessarily sophisticated, accessible and appreciable because of its delicate lightness, a panacea to survive in the thorny chaos of reality. The works, almost all realized in the last year, favoring black and white, mark a strong relationship with the written page but are not distant from the bichromatic and cosmic like decorations typical of Gothic architecture, both Middle Eastern and Western, with a veiled nod to the inherent wealth in the fruitful and necessary cultural exchanges.
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