It was almost impossible not to take notice of Iraqi-American artist Ahmed Alsoudani’s mass invasion at the Venice Biennale this year – if the vivid colours and immense canvases didn’t immediately attract your attention, the sheer repetition of his highly distinctive work assured that the images infiltrate your psyche. And hot on the heels of this inclusion in three major Venice exhibitions is Alsoudani’s first solo show in London – at the prestigious, albeit slightly contentious gallery, Haunch of Venison.
With a surrealistic quality that is more Švankmajer than Dali, Alsoudani’s work fragments inorganic structures and fleshy bodies, abstracting them at times to a point of non-recognition, in a dynamic compendium of the most intriguing grotesqueries.
One of the things I admire most about Alsoudani’s work is the lack of pedantics – all ‘Untitled’ (a registrar’s nightmare), they never force-feed the viewer, but rather allow you to delve into their chaos only at the depths which you can handle. Layering raw graphite drawing with polychromatic painting that at times approaches a cartoonish nature, the works have a slightly uneasy quality about them – a tension inherent within the medium that continues through to the subject matter.
The subject here is war – the pain and suffering we inflict on one another in conflict – which seems to be an inseparable constitution of human civilisation. Following in the footsteps of Goya and Picasso, Alsoudani conveys the atrocities of war through the price paid in the traumatisation of the individual – in particular the psychological repercussions of warfare.
Alsoundani attempts to capture the results of war on the people who live in those circumstance – not just in numbers and the corporal consequences of injury and death – but the unseen and internal effects on the psyche.
But like many of us, Alsoudani is outside of the physical battlegrounds, having left Iraq during the first Gulf War. While his work may evoke the psychological fragmentation and suffering inflicted on those who live within and through conflict, it much more accurately encapsulates the way those outside of combat zones experience warfare. Removed from the front lines, and in the absence of crossfire, one occupies the position of spectator. War is fed to us through images and narratives – fragments of people and places plucked out and rearranged in a tableaux of aftermath. This experience of war becomes a mélange of signs and symbols – a hyperreality without a referent.
Chaotic and in a state of disarray, in Alsoudani’s work pieces of bodies meet planes of colour, and reach varying levels of recognisable portraiture. Others simply dissolve into charcoal post-humanoid figures. These are images of war and there is a language to be learned here – look as close as you can handle and take away what you will.