* The Life of Dreams
One of the major strengths of the School’s visual art program is the sense of diversity it nurtures, and also how it fosters the confidence of students to promote their individual vision to both a professional constituency and to the broader community. I often feel frustrated that we as a School don’t do this enough – that whilst we are very good at the production of visual arts, we are less successful at providing an effective interface with the broader public, and potentially the consumers of these works, by building an awareness and a market for all that our considerably talented students create.
Therefore it is a special thrill for me to see these works displayed here, and I do congratulate Elyas for taking the initiative and negotiating the venue and organising this event.
Elyas, as most of you would know, was born in Afghanistan, moved to Iran as a child, and later moved back to Afghanistan. Eventually he arrived in Australia where today he is one of our newly naturalised citizens. He has followed his passion and built his early concerns with illustration, design and calligraphy into the accomplished paintings and sculptures you see about you now.
However, beyond these formal constraints, what Elyas does is charts for us a sense of displacement and cultural dislocation as he reflects upon the journey between homeland and new countries, describing what is remaining, what has been found and the distance which separates each of those places. As importantly he charts the emotional spaces which separate loved ones. He also charts new spaces and allows us to see possibilities where we may not have understood possibilities to have existed.
Professor Stephen Castles, who is currently a Research Professor at the University of Sydney and Associate Director of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford, has written extensively on forced migration and its links to processes of social transformation in both the countries from which people leave and in the countries which receive arriving populations. Stephen has said that people who have been forced to flee their homeland do not bring with them an intact culture, a perfectly formed, fully resolved, hermetically sealed, yet static, culture. The culture that they bring is ruptured and in flux and thus we cannot think of it in the romantic terms of enduring practices embedded within either the homeland institutions, nor indeed within the daily activities of its people.
The notion of crystalline cultures is broken as cultures evolve, as they wax and wane, diminish and expand, retreat and integrate. And so there is no perfect articulation of Elyas’s homeland culture, and yet, here in Australia we are able to say the Afghan people carry with them, as do all emerging communities, shards of their homeland culture, and that individuals like Elyas are daily recreating those in their social interactions, but as importantly for us, in inspiring works such as those around us.
Krzysztof Wodiczko wrote of the “new refugees” who “enter cities that are already fully built, with their architectural, ideological, and monumental theaters in place.” He said that it is these people who will “transform and unbuild the cities by inserting their presence, their performances, and their histories into the collective memories and democratic discourses of the city itself. The city (will be) reconceived with each new immigrant…. (for) within each immigrant lives an entire city, often richer, more complex, and more hopeful than the public one – (it is) the city to come.”So this work is about transformative practices, about what has been lived, what has been experienced, what has been imagined, what has been dreamt.
Here is the floating world, harshly located in war and violence. Yet here too is the realm of illogicality, of random actions, of unreality, that realm so well scribed by Goya – whose country also was torn by civil war and external intervention – in that most famous etching of Los Caprichos, “The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters.”
Here in Elyas’s paintings we see several suites of work:
• There are gentle lyrical illustrations which rely for their effect on a contemplative approach in which poetic forms float through figurative and interior scenes infused with poetic calligraphy. They directly remind us of the delicacy of Persian miniatures and the tenderness with which those works were made
• There are highly analytical, deconstructed portraits comprised of floating features and flayed flesh, often bringing together two dimensional and three dimensional elements to reinforce the dichotomy between the human as an organic, psychological creature and as both the product and creator of ominous technology
• There are extremely expressive narrative paintings which chart disconcerting worlds of war, violence, displacement, journey and resettlement, in which the characters are acted upon, unable to exercise control over their lives, at the whim of overwhelming forces. Despite all the odds there are survivors and those who report these events
• There is a series of formalist work based on the arbitrary spilling of wine, exploring place and memory.
In all of the post-expressionist works the brushstrokes scribe anger and resentment, yet ironically they also embody hope and prophesy new beginnings. In the process they strip the perceptual, reconstructing the visual with parallel experiences in lush, corporeal colours and in textures which remind us of the sensuous nature of paint and its ability to transcend the physical and to push emotive boundaries so that those rendered experiences become more than singular events and stand for both the inherent violence humanity has wrought upon itself and the sense of identification and compassion we all have for the suffering we inflict and consequences we bare.
And in Elyas’s sculpture we sense the longing and the physical distance between brother and sister, the devotion and commitment, discounting the physicality and the effort required to write so many letters.
I’d like to conclude by referring to one of the stories surrounding Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in which Solomon orders the construction of a space that was covered with slabs of polished glass or crystal. The Queen of Sheba interpreted the glass as a body of water and readied herself to cross through it. When she realized her eyes had deceived her, she understood that reality does not lie on the surface. We can understand therefore that a work of art is something of wonder, but also that it can give you the impression of something that it is not. In the Life of Dreams, our realities may have been constructed of the past and the present but they take us to places we can’t control, places we recognize but can’t locate, places we know but can’t comprehend.
Whilst we may not live in dreams they do allow us to see what lies beneath the surface.
Finally, everyone, I’d like acknowledge those people who have assisted Elyas to mount this exhibition, in particular Mary Knights, who’s overseeing this project space and has initiated a series of rolling student exhibitions, and Keith Giles and Peter Harris for their ongoing support.
I’d like to congratulate Elyas for what he has managed to achieve with this exhibition, and it gives me great pleasure to declare The Life of Dreams open, and would ask you all to show your appreciation to Elyas and to his supporters.
School of Art, Architecture and Design
University of South Australia
* Speech to launch the opening of Elyas Alavi’s exhibition, The Life of Dreams, in the School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia project space, 6pm Monday 13th September 2010 by: Andrew Hill, Associate Head, School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia
South of Sorrow, 2010, Wine, acrylic and oil on canvas, 70.40cm
We are birds, 2010, oil on canvas, 40.30cm
Ali Arabi, 2010,acrylic on canvas,40.30cm
You at once,2010, wine acrylic and oil on canvas, 40.30cm
Void number 2, 2010, acrylic and oil color on canvas,40.30cm
Cheri,2010, acrylic and oil on canvas