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Western art history has witnessed the gradual decline of male image from Davidic figure of heroism. Today’s contemporary painting has been fading away from the Napoleonic majesty. The young female model depicted by Lucian Freud in “The Painter Surprised by a Naked Admirer” (2005) is nestled at the feet of the painter, whereas the old and weak painter regained the halo of his heroic past from the attachment of this woman. This can be described as a glorious reflection of the last radiance of the heroic male image in painting. At the end of the last century, Jenny Saville’s huge “bisexual body” challenged gender boundaries and regarded the “non-male” identity as a new figure of worship. Yet the male image created by Tala Madani is not only a refutation of the traditional heroic male image in art history, but also a rare female gaze over men.
The title work of this exhibition “Chit Chat” was the work created in 2007, which is Tala Madani’s earliest animation work. This work depicts a series of ineffective and violent conversations between a group of anonymous middle-aged men with Madani’s uniquely identified brushstroke. In this work, Madani reveals the causes for the frequent occurrence of conflicts and wars in this masculine world. In the animation works “Headbug” (2009), “Underman” (2012) and “Wrong House” (2014), men either slap the bugs on the head to bloodshed, or randomly apply violence to any object. Between this boring sadism and abuse, Madani shows her deep insight into the boredom and violence of men.
In “Hospital” (2009), “Manual Man” (2019) and “The Womb” (2019), another symbolic figure in Tala Madani’s works appears: the baby. The baby seems to be the bodily existence that Madani found for the yellow smiley face in her early creations—the fluorescent yellow smiley face in “Love Doctor” (2015) is dressed in a white coat, imposing some involuntary operation on men under the faint blue light. What can be felt is the innocent violence that succeeded from the “Hospital” (2009) in which the baby continuously abuses the male figure in a hospital bed.
In Madani’s works, the baby is not only the opposite side of the strict hierarchy and the fetish world of adultery, but also has the natural and indifferent capacity of huge destructiveness. It is the paradox swinging between barbarity and hope: in “Manual Man” (2019), a naked baby forcefully smashes the middle-aged men who have been solidified into various types of furniture, after which it sits in front of the window to look for a new pure world. In “The Womb” (2019), the baby which is still in the womb refuses to accept the traditional narrative of the brief history of humankind, and after the attempt to turn off the screen fails, the angry baby raises a gun to break the constraint of the mother’s womb — the baby realizes that it has to break the history that doesn’t belong to itself. The complex and multi-faceted baby figure in Madani’s works, with chaos, violence, innocence and hope, is both the executor of the brutal patricide and the pioneer of the new world. One cannot help but think of young revolutionaries who intend to destroy all structures in violent anti-hegemonic demonstrations in various places of this century. This reference is expressed more directly in Madani’s painting “Dirty Protest” (2015): the work depicts babies who excrete everywhere and doodle with shit on the wall — a direct quotation of “the dirty protest set off by the Irish Radicals in the British Maze Prison (1976-81) and Armagh Prison (1980-81).” However, Madani’s depiction of babies does not intend to discuss a particular protest movement, but to explore and capture the contemporary temperament and abstract image of such group of people.
Since 2013, more figures have been involved in Tala Madani’s works. Female images appear in the “Pussy Painting” series — in the work “Sex Ed by God” (2017), a short-haired girl with open legs waiting to be seen. In this sex education class, two male characters follow the instructions from a pair of chattering flesh-pink lips, talking excitedly about the girl’s body in the projection. And yet the femininity is determined not to be passive anymore, she thus regains her initiative by letting two men disappear between her legs.
After Tala Madani gave birth to her two kids, there was an eight-month break in her artistic creation. She tried to paint a self-portrait of herself holding a baby on the canvas, but such a combination is too old to escape the conventional imagination of the Virgin and the Holy Child. So Madani used dark brown paint to erase the image of the mother in the painting, making her look like shit. In the “Shit Moms” series in 2019, Madani put symbols such as mother, baby and excrement in the same image, expressing the weird and complicated maternal identity and the extruding energy within the family, which makes the scope of her work from the discussion over the grand social structure of power and gender to a more personal and private family life in general sense.
In the pandemic wave of large-scale involuntary deaths in 2020, Tala Madani re-examines life, desire and death. “Fan” (2020) is Tala Madani’s new work. The snowman smashed the fan because of his fear of death, causing himself to melt — how vulnerable and illusory he is. Madani has no intention to directly record or respond to the pandemic, and it is in this way that it obtains the power to transcend from the current context.
The process from drawing, painting to animation is not only the gradual slowing down of the pace of creation, but also the artist’s exploration of the possibilities of image among different materials and medium. If all the works are regarded as part of an artist’s whole concept, then in the case of Tala Madani, the animations have undoubtedly provided a more profound and comprehensive path for us to read her concept and thought.