Taking up this issue’s theme of ‘The Diary of an Artist in Confinement Interesting Times’, Selections invited artists to share their thoughts on work, art and life in general since the beginning of the year. We guided them with the following questions:
What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
If you were to write a note, a reminder, a memory to yourself, or to the world, in a time capsule, and you were to open it 15 years from now, what would it say?
If you had to describe the year 2020 in brief, what would it sound like?
Some of you have dedicated this year so far to working continuously in your studio; some others have found themselves completely demotivated and have halted everything. What have you been doing? Please describe in detail and share with us the work you have been doing during this period.
The pandemic has changed our perception of time and our relationship to our homes. What is your experience?
How do you see the future of art?
Have you been reading?
Some chose to respond in a diary form or with visual storytelling; others provided their answers at varying length and in different ways. Each provides a unique insight into and reflection of the most extraordinary period of our lives to date.
Before February I was working on “We Scream But Nothing Changes”, a project dedicated to Edvard Munch and the people’s revolution in Iraq. I was developing the concept and making some drawings for the animation part of the project and preparing for new paintings and so on. Then in February things with Covid became serious. At that time, I don’t know what happened, but I couldn’t work. I always read, and most of the time I read philosophy, history, mythology, and novels. In the time of Covid, I didn’t read as smoothly as in normal times, but I was reading online philosophy articles for the last few months. I also follow a lot of YouTube lectures in philosophy, which are lighter than books because in such times I couldn’t get into books.
In lockdown, I found it really surprising how artists immediately started making paintings or drawing about something that just happened. This looked like a kind of machine work to me. You need time to understand, to see the whole landscape and details of the story. I couldn’t continue what I was doing, and I couldn’t make anything about Covid even until this day. Maybe in the future I will do something about it, but for now I need to see the end of this story to understand it and feel it in the right way. In March, I continued the work I already started in Madrid for “We Scream But Nothing Changes”. The floor of the studio piled up with black and white drawings of faces screaming.
Maybe we can say that 2020 is one of the real faces of history. In our lives we forget how history works, but in revolutionary and great moments we see the real face of history. I am talking about the history of humans on Earth, what happened to them and what they achieved. The real face of history is this, and it is painful. This is the best description of this year. In all the miserable times that human beings faced, there was no real change because change is for the better. Our history is a kind of recycling, a circle: what happened yesterday will happen tomorrow. We never realise, we never remember. All our hopes and thoughts are a kind of illusion because they don’t change anything. For example, after hundreds of years of brain power, thinking, publishing books, making art and developing morals and laws, you look around and realise that the world is a trifle.
Absurdity controls the world. Why? Because reality is far from our hopes most of the time. As another example, after the misery that Hitler and the Nazis created in Europe and the world, now the neo-Nazis and the far-right movement are back, as if there was no lesson learned. And everything that we witnessed after the second world war from protests and socialist laws couldn’t prevent the return of the Nazis. What I witness today and what you’ll witness in 15 years is the same illusion.
Imagine that Covid erased humankind. What would be the benefit of the art? Nothing. Imagine that Covid closed museums and art institutions, and when they reopened their activity was limited. So, what can art do to counter Covid? Nothing. What can art do against the violence in the world now? Nothing. What can art do against the current right-wing political wave like the neo-Nazis? Nothing. Believing that the idea of art can change the world and make it better is a kind of illusion that humans made. It is the same as all the other illusions of beauty and freedom and so on. The only real change that art can make is on a personal level. It can give people who visit museums a good feeling. This is all that art can do. It gives us a kind of meaning, a kind of therapy against the heavy ideas and heavy facts like death, war, sickness and so on. So, art can help us to release or reflect, but art never changes things.
Born in Baghdad in 1960, Sadik Alfraji is a visual artist who works in drawing, painting, video and animation. He studied art, graphic design and philosophy and pursued his artistic profession beginning in the 1980s in Baghdad. In his work he has focused on the expressionistic intensity of graphic art and the ideas and concepts of existence. His work has been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Asia, Europe and the United States, in art venues including museums and art foundations, such as the MoMA PS1 in New York; Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Australia; Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar; Barjeel Art Foundation in UAE; Maraya Art Centre in UAE; British Museum in London; the 56th and 57th Venice Biennales; Videobrasil in São Paulo; Mori Art Museum in Tokyo; Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art (LACMA); Centro Cultural La Moneda in Chile; Busan Museum of Art in South Korea; Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp, Belgium; Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris; Stedelijk Design Museum Den Bosch in the Netherlands; Museum of Modern Art of Algiers; Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston; Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires (MAMBA) in Argentina; Novosibirsk State Art Museum in Russia; Cluj-Napoca Art Museum in Romania; Hollfeld Kunst & Museum in Germany and many others. Alfraji currently lives and works in the Netherlands.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.