De demonen van Tala Madani in SMBA

Issue no5
Oct-Nov 2020
Wat is Nederland

Dazzled Men. The Paintings of Tala Madani

The paintings of Tala Madani (born in Tehran in 1981, currently living in Amsterdam) have been called ‘audacious’, ‘passionate’ and ‘truly independent’. Her work has been picked out in critical reviews of Saatchi’s recent Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East as just plain ‘terrific’. The brushstrokes are compared to the power of a ‘flame-thrower’, while other work in the same show is seen as ‘obvious’, even disappointing. Tala Madani is ‘good because she’s dangerous’, apparently.

—Maxine KopsaAre you dangerous?

—Tala Madani‘No I’m very nice. I think it’s important to push one’s own limits and that of societies. I don’t believe in simple provocation, this could get boring very soon, but it’s important to challenge perceptions, especially today where conservatism reigns everywhere. Compared to the 70s and 80s I think the 21st century hasn’t had a good start, for instance in music and television both in America and Britain there’s been a regression toward complacency.’

—Maxine KopsaYou warned me about the growing tag deftly attaching itself to your work. In a lot of what I've read so far there is quite a bit about you being a provocative and vital Iranian penis hating woman. You do often (if not always till now) paint men. Men in unusual circumstances and positions, pulling at each other’s beards, climbing out of broken windows, seated in rows holding up paper masks with balls of ice cream dripping over their heads and outstretched legs, crouched in a semi circle like pets waiting for their master to feed them, yelling at each other, laughing at each other. Why all men?

—Tala Madani'I like to think of men as phenomena. I’m very interested in baseness, but this is more a curiosity, I’m not interested in damning “Man”. I like to think of work as play, and in the studio there is no judge or jury, there is absolute freedom. Works that have always interested me have had a salted surface, Paul Mcarthy, R. Crumb, Nicole Eisenman, Paula Rego. Besides sharing male figures, the large works and small works function differently. In my studio there is a dialogue between easel painting vs. mural painting. The large works play with American Abstraction bathetically by intruding the human form, and have a textual quality as oppose to a spatial one. The small works have a secular space, and can range from caricature to sentimental. I’m interested in mass behavior vs. private behavior, as a child-of-the-revolution and witness to many football games, I’m intrigued with what people can do in masses, which they would not do alone. Omitting women characters was useful in narrowing my meaning; the female figure was very loaded with signs and none that I was interested in exploring.'

—Maxine KopsaIn your works I see a lot of boldly painted connecting lines that function almost like nooses. More literally in a work like Hanging with Tiger where a tiger’s dismembered tail, or, more simply, a striped orange and black cord is wrapped around a man’s neck twice, a small drawing of a hangman pictured just beyond him. In Panties and in On the Table these fluid lines have turned into what look like innards, as though the bowels of the portrayed men have been dislodged from their insides. But these pink and red tubes coming out of their shorts are connected to what look like rubber water bottles and so, we realize, constitute makeshift enemas. These lines repeatedly merge into larger patterns. In your recent paintings shown during your solo exhibition entitled Dazzle Men you reference the WWI allied tactic of ‘dazzle camouflage’ within domestic situations – men in patterned clothing depicted in similarly patterned rooms. Can you talk a bit about this for lack of a better term, ‘holistic’ approach?

—Tala Madani‘It’s interesting for me that you see it in those terms. I’m always interested in how people make these connections and see the work. But I have no holistic formulation behind it. In the painting Hanging with the Tiger I was specifically thinking about language, by association the Hangman game. Language is power and where you can’t play you will hang yourself. It’s quite desperate really. The enema bags, well they’re good for getting rid of the shit, a possibility to self-distill. The paintings show action, that’s the line going through all of them.’

—Maxine Kopsa Apart from the basics od location (table, floor,door handle, window, bed) there's not great deal of superfluous detail in each setting. Every element, be it animate or inanimate, is depicted lithely but deliberately, making each work into what appears to be very complete parable-like incidents. Can you comment on this?

—Tala Madani'I don't use any photographic references or live models; the works are imagined, and the mind doesn't provide excess material but the idea Painting, as conceptual art form, sheds excess forms, holding on to its aim. For me, again, the play is important and si the works are anti-labor.'

—Maxine KopsaIncongruity also seems to be an important factor – in the sweet seductive pastel colours, bald often half naked men are depicted in apparently dire but still humorous circumstances. They deal with foot spray, birthday cakes, guns, enemas, awkward homo erotic situations; they braid each other’s beards or wait in blind, silent groups or stare out into patterned nothingness. In what world do they find themselves?

—Tala Madani‘The small works are set in a secular space, safe interiors where they can act out. These paintings work like vignettes jumping from one story to the next. They could be a kind of uncle-ic fantasy. The figures are sometimes challenged to do things impossible in real life, like sitting on broken glass smiling. All actions take place with a sense of play or game, infantilized. My sense of what is prevalent today in many societies also filters through the work: Machismo, the desire to mimic each other even in absurd behaviors, herd-mentality, etc. But I’m also willing to believe Goethe when he says, “Perversity is the only thing that can save us. The large paintings often use tropes of Western painting to comment on what is prevalent now, both socially and artistically. In the painting Smiley, a group of figures hold onto the smiley face (peace symbol of the 70s) in place of their own face. Thinly painted Blue and Red stripes visits the American Minimalist tradition and Jasper Johns’ Flag paintings. The protruding face breaking the smiley and the lines turning into drips play with the failure of that ideology.'

—Maxine KopsaWhat's all this about you not wanting your photograph reproduces in the Saatchi catalogue? I read in The Observer that you refused to have your face revealed in a photgraph. Is this as intentionally political as the newspapers claim?

—Tala Madani ‘I did refuse to present my photo, but not for the reasons the newspaper claimed that I did. I think the more superfluous information you have around a work of art the less you can actually see the work. So my rejection was to the set up and not for any political reasons. We live in a celebrity-crazed culture which has the danger of neutering everything else.’

—Maxine KopsaBut while you were still a junior in Fine Arts at Oregon State University you participated in Model Arab League in Portland. This was a conference meant to spur awareness and discussion amidst those interested if not committed to political issues in and amongst Arab countries. You are quoted as saying that the league presents an opportunity to find others ‘committed to resolving the conflict.

—Tala Madani[Laughing] True, I was very idealistic. I put up a show of drawings by Palestinian kids from Gaza and organized many talks with psychologists, political activists, Israeli/Palestinian students, etc. well, you know, it’s horrible to have this problem. That was during Clinton when there was more optimism. And now it’s much worse. In America because there is a lack of outward support for Palestine one is driven to be active in this way, when I’m in Iran because there is ample support for Palestine one is inclined to talk moderation.’

—Maxine KopsaJournalists and press release writers seem to exploit your Iranian heritage. You moved to the US when you were 13, have been educated there, went to Yale for your Master’s degree recently completed a residency recently at the Rijksakademie here in Amsterdam, how Iranian are you ¬– in terms of artistic practice, but perhaps also in more terms?

—Tala Madani ‘I feel connected to many places. In terms of my work, I learned about painting in America, and the way I paint is very Western. I think learning to write Farsi at an early age has an influence as well. But the categorization of Iranian-artist is of course incomplete. It’s also a tough one especially because Iran has a polarized relationship with the West now and its culture is not very transparent, so this categorization doesn’t give the Western audience specific information, it only signals other; dangerous; novel; mystery. And this discussion is a decade old. I think it’s best to just take work functions, not the artist.’

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2020