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.
This was my best year. My major exhibitions in Egypt and at Saleh Barakat took place this year, and it was my best time to produce work without thinking about the market. This was the perfect timing for me. I did my own work, but I just want to remember that I never faced such a period of solitude and isolation in Baghdad or Jordan as I did in Lebanon in the past seven or eight months, because for the first time, for three months, I couldn’t meet any friend or visit any gallery.
During this period, I read some novels and reread some old ones, but this time I read them from a different perspective.
I read Love in the Time of Cholera, Mahmoud Darwish and Saeed Yousef. I had bought some religious books before, so I wanted to get deeper into them. So, the books I read were liberal and not conservative, I had time to read those books and reflect on how people create this life and not religion.
“Sharh Diwan Al- Hallaj”, was my best book during confinement. Al- Hallaj is one of the Sufis in Iraq.
The books that I enjoyed were those that were related to viruses around the world. I also watched movies about viruses. This time I saw them from a different perspective, and I enjoyed it. A lot of our perceptions have changed. I also read Arabic and translated novels, but not about art; I wanted to use this time for other stuff.
Today, the world is like a small village: anything that happens to a part of it has an effect on the whole world because of this virus. If we go back in history, we witnessed different viruses which lasted for a couple of years then disappeared. So, we hope, and I know, that the world will go back to normal because viruses have a lifespan and medicine is progressing rapidly. So, there is a huge hope that this crisis will pass, but it needs some time.
Secondly since the virus is contagious, and since you are at risk of getting it everywhere, we are not afraid of it that much. With wars we used to sigh and feel dread because they happen in certain places, but this time the virus includes everyone. So, we feel sympathetic to everyone, and I know that whatever happened to me has also happened to people in Mexico or in Alaska. I am so hopeful it will end within six months, even though some people think it will go on for three years.
Life will become much better than before, but this time life will have a meaning: everything will have a flavour because we weren’t aware that we were living in heaven before. When we were deprived of everything we understood. We used to have freedom: we could commune and move around, travel and go to events. Everything disappeared overnight, but later on life will have a different meaning and we will protect it. We will not waste any more time.
Being in isolation at home was so hard and at the same time there was the economic crisis that we went through here. This made it the worst period psychologically. At the same time, this psychological phase helped me to kill the man inside. I guess it was the best period for production and I discovered that this year made me reflect more on my works. I won’t forget these past nine months or the year 2020 because it was so bad for me psychologically, but it was great for my artistic side.
This period of isolation we witnessed was the best time to experiment. We all have our own style of work, but during this period we had a lot of time on our hands and we didn’t have any shows, so we started to break all the rules that we had in our minds. As for colours and the making of the work, as experts we have certain issues that are engraved in our minds. However, it wasn’t a problem of spreading the colours or their composition, but rather it was the subject itself and how to reflect it that was the problem. The purpose of a painting is not decoration: it has become a language. This is why during this period my works became more reflective.
I have works about the different physical appearances of people after this virus and about the mask that has become part of our wardrobe. My work included poor families that were affected and not welcomed at hospitals, so I remembered that same period in Baghdad.
I can’t deny that at times I was bored of the house. I have a great connection to my house and my studio, to the walls, but this time the studio suffocated me, because every day was the same and my sleeping hours weren’t regulated as we had no notion of time. What differentiated my work was the side effect of isolation. My work became harsher. Every time I tried to draw something nice and be happy about it, the next day I would change the work and make it tougher so it would reflect my psychological state.
After an entire day, I looked at myself in the mirror and discovered that I hadn’t washed my face or changed my clothes. So, I drew a self-portrait to remind myself of this period and this year. This is one of the works that will remain with me forever. This was the first time that I would keep my books, plates, food, cigarettes, and cleaning equipment next to my paintings. My entire life became confined to this square metre, where I would drink, eat, read, and sanitise my hands. I wanted to document that.
Born in Baghdad in 1968, Serwan Baran received a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Babylon. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Baran moved to Amman, but since 2013, he has been living and working in Beirut. He has had solo exhibitions at Nabad Art Gallery in Amman (2013) and Matisse Art Gallery in Marrakech (2013), among other galleries in Amman, Damascus, Tokyo, and various Iraqi cities. He participated in the Cairo Biennale in 1999, Al-Kharafi Biennial in Kuwait in 2011, and the fourth Marrakech Biennale in 2012. He has also participated in group exhibitions in Aleppo, Amman, Baghdad, and Doha. More recently, his work was included in the 2018 exhibition “Face Value: Portraiture (A Gallerist’s Personal Collection)” at Saleh Barakat Gallery. Baran is a member of several artist associations including the International Association of Art, the Iraqi Fine Artists Association and the International Network for Contemporary Iraqi Artists.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53