THIERRY GOLDBERG PROJECTS is very pleased to present the first solo exhibition of Iraqi-American artist Ahmed Alsoudani. This exhibition of mostly large-scale drawings composes spoil and decay in mass. The works suggest political violence, terror, torture, and war without actually depicting the hand of power inflicting the damage. This framing is specific to the media’s presentation of shock and awe tactics – severing the identity of the inflictor from the pain of the victim, fostering public sympathy with aloofness to government policy. The drawings on view are deeply affected by the distribution of such images.
Alsoudani’s work alludes to Goya’s Disasters of War and Picasso’s Guernica while borrowing from the gestures of Willem de Kooning and the figuration of Francis Bacon. His drawings portray scenes of damnation without God and war without battle speaking most of all to the universal condition of suffering. All of which, Alsoudani expresses through Western traditions and tools in a distinct calligraphic notation and burnt out rendering to compose varied situations of violent waste. While flesh hangs off contorted figures, they do not ask for sympathy or beg for mercy, these are figures inured in an accumulation of pain and exhaustion.
Alsoudani presents depictions of all too familiar confinement, deposition, and the scavenging of decay. His exploration into the narrative potential of pain has a long tradition in religious, political, and sexual modes of representation, neither of which fully locates his work – eluding transfiguration, hope, and pleasure. So how is it we are caught looking at his work with such little emotional reward? In her Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag suggests scenes of the terrible transfix “To steel oneself against weakness. To make oneself numb. To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible.” Likewise, Alsoudani’s work fills certain psychological needs in relation to power to remind us and reconnect us with violence at large.
The American response to war is one in which a general anesthesia and distance to raw power and destruction is supported and, at the same time inevitable. Alsoudani cannot escape the reality of terror abroad so easily as he was born in Iraq and experienced a gamut of dictatorships first hand in Baghdad, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. He claims, “struggling is a daily issue . . . living with the war minute by minute.” So, his work functions more as a documentation of his responsiveness to charged situations rather than a fixed journalistic approach. In this sense, he responds actively in his formal decision-making, always present in the process. His point of view as an American citizen with a very distinct background contributes to his position that the past does not exist. As history relegates events to a conclusion, he sees in a constant present in which the horrors of the past constantly replay and afflict the present.
- Text by Richard Goldstein