Showcasing his newest large-scale oil paintings, prints and drawings, Iraqi artist Athier Mousawi exhibits solo in the UK for the first time, in “Man of War” at Edge of Arabia in Battersea, London, through 29 March 2014.
Athier depicts brainless hunter-killers
Iraqi-born London- and Paris-based artist Athier Mousawi refers to a range of influences that coalesce in his large intensely-coloured works presented in “Man of War” at Edge of Arabia, in partnership with Ayyam Gallery and EOA.Projects.
The title of the show refers to both Iraq’s contemporary history of conflict as well as the marine organism of the same name. Also known as a “bluebottle”, the Portuguese Man o’ War has evolved to resemble the jellyfish; it is actually a symbiotic colony of individual organisms, which has “perfected [the] ability to hunt, kill and destroy” – even without a brain to govern its body. Athier uses this mindless creature to refer to his direct experience of warfare in Iraq and Middle East, watching with an expatriat’s eyes as drones and other “brainless” technology is increasingly utilised in conflict around the world, to seek the target “stealthily and with precision”. For Athier, the drone and the thoughtless Man of War are construed as from the same realm of human experience, equal killing machines, from that place where “jellyfish” is also another word for “coward”.
Athier alludes to his own personal narrative, along with symbolism from Iraq’s long history, which includes that of Mesopotamia and Assyria, Islamic geometry and other figurative abstraction that points to wartime Western art (Picasso’s “Guernica” springs to mind). Equally unmistakable is the arresting and “enduring sense of [Athier’s] exile and nostalgia” in the paintings and drawings.
The exhibition space is quite lofty, and there is plenty of space for the dozen or so large acrylic on canvas paintings (the smallest being 173 cm x 190 cm) and another 10 or 12 smaller paper-based works in frames, as well as the two drawings (made with white wax or paint?) directly on the large plate-glass windows at the entrance. One curious element of the exhibition which didn’t seem to fit was the neon “Man of War” text several feet high by wide, on a dark blue wall. It’s the first thing that catches the eye on the way in, so I wasn’t sure if that was a piece of art by Athier (a kind of Bruce Nauman/Tracey Emin thing?) or was it simply a bit of advertising to be seen from the street?
Athier’s paintings are certainly appealing on account of their size, complexity and vibrant colours; however, the prints and drawings were my favourites. In humble black and white, they seemed to convey a depth of feeling, such dignity, with an aching and subtle nuance that I found to be more powerful than the vivid paintings. The monochrome palette does nothing to diminish the painfully direct view of the impact of warfare, with a quiet strength of emotion that rings quite clearly without multitudinous hue.
In any case, there is much to appreciate and enjoy in the exhibition overall. Especially for anyone interested in contemporary Iraqi artists, Athier’s “Man of War” is well worth a visit before the show is over at the end of March.
More links and information
- Athier’s “Man of War” exhibition at Edge of Arabia [press release]
- More information about “Man of War” and Athier on Facebook
- Athier Mousawi introduces his work and recent exhibition, “Man of War” in a short video by Khalil Itani [YouTube, 04:22]
- Interview in Vice.com by Eleni Markopoulioti: “Athier Mousawi thinks drones are like jellyfish” – 17 February 2014
- Overview of Athier’s work in Sotheby’s blog: Athier at Edge of Arabia – 7 February 2014
- Iraqi art – interview with Athier Mousawi – BBC Interview with Serena Chaudhry [YouTube, 04:42] – 7 February 2014
- From Buro247.com: “Iraqi artist Athier’s ‘Man of War’ at Edge of Arabia in London“, edited by Talar Bilemjian – 31 January 2014
Exhibition details: Man of War is showing at Edge of Arabia, 40 Elcho Street, SW11 4AU from 17 February through 29 March 2014. Free Admission.
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00am – 6:00pm
(Oh and if you’re a bit confused as to how to get into gallery, the enormous heavy-looking steel door at the top of the steps at 40 Elcho Street is the right one. There’s no buzzer or doorknob; just need to give it a little pull by the sort of notch above the keyhole and it swings right open. 38 Elcho Street contains a Pilates studio unrelated to Edge of Arabia). 🙂