Modern Islamic art fills the new Saatchi Gallery in the old Chelsea Barracks, just off the King’s Road in London. About half the artists no longer live in the country of their birth, having moved to Western countries such as the United States, or Belgium,  but some continue to work from inside Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and have exhibited their work in London thanks to the magpie-like, fabulously wealthy Charles Saatchi and an identity that is hidden. All the works are on a large scale, which suits the exhibition space, but seems at odds with the intricate Islamic art that we are more used to seeing.

I wondered what it was that set this modern art apart from the contemporary works that we are more used to seeing exhibited in Western modern art galleries. Two themes dominated – at least in the pictures exhibited. War and Women.

Then I wondered what two words, if only two were possible, I would choose to categorise the modern works of art that I am more familiar with. Sex and Decay, I thought, and after that nothing else seemed to spring to mind. And then I pondered that perhaps War and Women was not so far removed from Decay and Sex, since it was not the glory of war that was being triumphed, and since the theme of women was naturally a sexual one.  Although this exhibition appeared much more overtly political than others I had visited, perhaps my definition of political is tired, or perhaps these artists, like the Russian artists in the Royal Academy exhibition, just have more to say that is interesting, or that I find interesting, than the likes of Tracey Emin (Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With) and Damien Hirst (Adam and Eve Under the Table) or the Chapman Brothers (at their worst).

A triptych of huge paintings showed the incongruous juxtaposition of veiled women and naked men on a beach, of raucous male celebrations at a wedding and decorous females behind a screen, and of gendered styles of grieving at a funeral: a series of strange montages of the artist photographed in women’s underwear harked back to the custom of men dressing as women for traditional theatre: balloon dolls squeezed into nipple tassels and lace mimiced Tehran prostitutes: a series of photographs lost the identity of women behind the tools of our trade, an iron, a brush, whilst another series showed a veiled woman holding a ghetto blaster on her shoulder to her ear, or dragging along a cylinder vacuum cleaner like a dog on a lead: a room foil of Bacofoil shrounds could have been a memory of the dead but was women in prayer: Baghdad and Beirut were portrayed in glorious colour and monochrome rubber.

saatchi-tri-1

saatchi-tri-2

1.

saatchi-gallery-010

2.

saatchi-men-and-women

saatchi-men-and-women-2

3.

saatchi-hair

4.

saatchi-tinfoilshrouds

5.

saatchi-bowl

6.

A Chinese modern art installation oddly remained in the cellar of the gallery. In the vast empty white room there were half a dozen or so life-like corpses of Muslim leaders of indeterminate origin. Each was sat or slumped in electrically powered wheel chair which moved around the room until it sensed an obstacle – the wall or another corpse – and wheeled around and whined off in another direction. One of the dead arms of a corpse hung down over the side of the wheelchair and a false finger had caught in the wheel and been torn off. As the wheel chair moved, the remaining fingers ran over the spokes like a stick over corrugated iron. I stood in the middle of the room, dodging the wheelchairs, and mused on the political message of aggression and UN brokered peace that this piece was supposed to convey. I took photographs as photographs are permitted everywhere.

saatchi-wheelchairs1

 

saatchi-wheelchairs-2

 

7.

1.  Rokni Haerizadeh

2. Ahmed Alsoudani

3. Ahmad Morshedloo

4. Ahmad Morshedloo

5. Kader Attia

6. Shadi Ghadirian

7. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

Advertisements