stars & stripes 2006006While rummaging in my storage to sort out some plastic bags I bumped into this old work of mine.

Academic year 2003/4. Sir John Cass department of Art and Design. Guildhall University just merging into London Metropolitan University, a sign of the times, anticipating the imminent future. That is when and where I’d made the artwork.

Back then Al jazeera was the soundtrack that spelled my days. Fairuz would soothe the nights even if apparently you’re supposed to listen to her in the morning. Now that would be really ideal: her voice the ideal tune to start the day with and spark the right concoction of emotions, not just in the Lebanon. Her voice wording a nation’s hopes, singing out a shared destiny.

Back then in London we were high.

All high, or attempting to get high. If not on drugs then high on an idea, or high on the idea to get high.

High in London. If not high on Notting hill, high on the East End. High on London fashion week , high on the Tate Modern

If not high on Tony Blair then on Damien Hirst.

We were high in London’s high streets, left overs of a lascivious decadent economy. Coming out high of the 90′ making sure to inhale every little bit of it, sucking out the last drop to the last gram of dust.

We were high on the lights that were never switched off.

Everything under control, no more Great depression ever, ever again.

We were high on the property markets and on the last at least at last latest hip restaurant.

Jogging high to the gym, coming out Holmes Place high

High on the hype, on the last at least at last latest hype, high

We were high, high on whatever, whatever one had or could have or could have had or could have been.

High on recovering from yet another pint, yet another hang over: the last at least at last latest.

Hanging in high, and high on hanging on.

We were high in the Lebanese fumes and perfumed argile enhanced the flavours of our meze: kibbeh nayeh, fattoush, tabule hommous and muttabbal.

Banquets of black labels wiskeys, pistachos and salted almonds.

London in Beirut, Beirut in London.

Living up the last at least at last latest day to the last at least at last latest gram of dust.

To blow away the thought of the last at least at last latest future.




He came and blew it all up for us

the bubble bursted.

Finally! How long could it last at least at last?

Finally! how long can one be high for?

There’s always a b/Bush around the corner awaiting to jump out and spoil the party!

You got to get high then. Higher then ever to live up the last at least at last latest day to the last at least at last latest gram of dust

Yuppies high, bohemians high, London brick layers high, dancing all high under one roof. Out of the council estates, out of the 80′ into the 90′ swishing into the millennium .

WOW the Millennium!!

Millennium dome, millennium bridge, millennium this, millennium that, jubilee here, jubilee there, jubilee everywhere.

Wow, the Millennium was now!

Out of Subterranea to the Fridge then back to the Mean Fiddler for a breather of nostalgia before heading on to politically incorrect China White.

We were all high.

High on looking, watching each other portraits at some frozen art fair.

Voyeurs and protagonists, all high. High on the distorted reflections mirroring our dilated shiny eyes.

Donuts glazed in astonishment.

High on gloss, slick and sleek veneer varnished life: high

Everything glossy. What did we see? Did I recognize you, see myself?

Running, escaping high. High on terrorists, high on attacks, rushing high inside the city’s tubes through victorian pipes. High on wars, high on terror.

That is when we all went to Hyde Park again: to get high. To get high on demonstrating, high on booing, Bush, booing bombing. yet another invasion:Iraq.

to protest and get high.

To protest to get high on protesting.

Myself high in a numbing depression and in that haze of anesthesia without much thought nor ado.

I made the work to get high!

To get high on the work.

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Driven by a reflex, a vital bodily function that like a digestive automatic impulse  was necessary to metabolize the surroundigs.

First came the ‘Spread’.

Second-hand shops glad to get read of their black bin bags bursting with old, odoured clothing piling up high on London East End’s pavements.

For two months sewing repetitive gestures were an addictive hallucinogenic conductor into a world of colours, smells and textures.  Hypnotized by the thread: in and out, rhythmically webbing through the materials, high on the smell of people’s life.

How many stories in each garment’s scent. How many lives inside those shapes. People of all forms, sizes and believes, cultures and places all inside my spread. A little universe at the tip of aching fingers. Hands sewing together rich and poor, young and old, all races, all together. A patchwork of  stories and human forms.

‘Spread’ was selected for my very fist show. For an instant a flush of serotonin broke up the sad haze fogging up my head: my heart. ‘Campaigning: Politics & Shopping’ curated by Bob and Roberta Smith at the Unit 2 Gallery in London was a big deal for me!

Yeah, Bob and Roberta Smith was my tutor together with many other great ones.

‘Bed’: a tiny fragile crooked bed made out of white porcelain and hand made barbed wire was the other artwork that Bob and Roberta Smith chose for that show.

The big barbed wire painting came after ‘Bed’. After an obsessive series of clay beds, barbed wire eventually became the next fixation.

Two years later I was driving the whole lot: spread, beds barbed wire and whatever else have you, all down to Italy. All precariously piled and bundled up on top of the roof of a car.

The spread rightly trying to take off and flying all over the motor-way, while the barbed wire painting was dangerously balancing on top of what really was a mountain of old smelly clothes. For the whole 1400 kilometers it felt as if both artworks were sitting on top of my head and not only, on top of my conscience too.

For the entire journey my friend David steered the humungous bundle through side roads and motor-ways. One arm outside the window holding on to the loot, in panic, fearing for the worse, and it was not just my driving that was despairing him.

But we all made it to Imperia in the end: David, his arm, the spread, the clay beds and the barbed wire painting.

Back then even the small town Imperia tried to set up an art biennial, at last at least at latest. Yet another of those. Yes, back then we were high on those too!

Biennial sprouting everywhere, better than magic mushrooms, biennial here, biennial there biennial everywhere!

Of course it did not last at least at last!

But in that unique occasion I was able to fulfill my vision and complete the work by combining and connecting ‘Spread’ to the barbed wire painting into what became: ‘Stars and Stripes’.

‘Stars and Stripes’ that is how Bob and Roberta Smith had in fact named that piece.

Well that was pre-plastic bag era for me and while I was trying to reach for the ceiling to hook my barbed wire painting up to the old italian palazzo’s bleached frescos, British military boats were collecting people from the lebanese shores. People gathering at sea running for their life, away from yet another bombing.

Of course, only the ones with british passports had the privilege to be rescued………No frequent flier points, only VIP club members welcomed……..

So I’ve bumped into this artwork that I have kept and forgot. It was sinking admits all the plastic bags. I have rediscovered it just in time for yet another crisis, yet another war.

DAHNUR GOYAL’s Losing Sight of Perspective

LSP e-invite Well, if you happen to pass through New Delhi you cannot miss Dhanur Goyal’s exhibition.

The show opens 7th December at Gallery Ragini.

Dhanur and I had met in Connecticut at Ipark several years ago now. The wonderful times and laughters we shared still resonate, in time and in my head, echoing through the miles and to this day: a powerful tie.

You can get aquanitaned with Dhanur’s work through his website:

…And the video of Dhanur in action:

I am also pasting parts of the PDF press release:

In An Enchanting World of Fluid Imagination Dhanur Goyal is a Tagorean in his art. Remember, I do not say that this young artist re-creates the aesthetic impact that Tagore’s paintings, mainly the images that the great bard had created out of the technique of erasure, in his contemporary works. On the contrary I would say that Dhanur Goyal translates his aesthetic vision into paintings and drawings done mainly using pen and ink on paper in a Tagorean mode, which is fluid, spontaneous and has a full blown capacity to transform the concrete into rhythmic abstraction. Worldly experiences are transformed and transmitted through swirling lines, fluid contours and a very intimate and suggestive symbolism. Images seem to submerge in the whirlpool of enchanted lines or at times they look like emerging from an intense ocean thanks to the lyrical churning of the artist’s hand. Dhanur’s pictorial world is hypnotic in a way; the more you look into it, the more you are transported to a different world where you see the vision not only intended by the artist but also subconsciously revealed by your own collective memory. It all started when Dhanur found out his ability to carve images out of two dimensional hardboards. For a long time he pursued his passion for carving, flowing with the rhythm of chiselling and filing the surface layer of the board and revealing the hidden images in it. Intentional and unintentional images evolved in due course of time and adding colour to the lines was a very pleasurable affair for the artist. It was a sort of perfecting the craft for him while he seriously enquired the possibilities of expanding the scope of his art. For a general art practitioner or even to an art lover, this act of carving could have been a primary step towards making wood cut prints but for Dhanur it was not a preparation for making woodcut prints. He did not follow the rules of printmaking. On the contrary he responded to an inner call that goaded him to use the surface itself as a medium than sub-grading it as a procedural act before making the final print. However, a deeper look into current series would tell us how those carving processes have helped him in coming up with an exquisite set of works under the common title, ‘Losing Sight of Perspective’. The title speaks a lot here; on the one hand the title holds the essence of artistic execution which almost denies any chance of the classical perspective coming in and on the other hand it also emphasises the core of the thematic that Dhanur generally plays up in these works. To understand the thematic orientation regarding the losing sight of perspective, we should approach his works from a different angle; as an existential young man, Dhanur regards the contemporary world as a transitory space and phase where the human beings often tend to lose the ‘right’ perspective of/on things. In that sense, he deduces, everything that we see around is chimerical and illusory, which could change the shape and colour at will and at the projection of frenzied fancies over them. It could be critical as well as celebratory, depending on the mood of the artist and the onlooker. This perspective shift is a cumulative experiential transference of the artist who has felt the changes in his surroundings. Art historically speaking, throughout the period of modernism in art, especially in the western world, the insistence of/on originality was based on the retrieval of primordial forms and expressions from their forgotten locations and also on the experimental application of the retrieved within the field of visual aesthetics. Primitive art helped the modern artist to find the lost visual cultures as well as his own evolutionary psychology. Entrenched in the innards of the culturally ‘unconditioned’ areas of his mind, were the images that could pour out profusely when all the guards of academicism were taken off. In Dhanur’s works too we see this profusion of images coming from a mind that is not restricted by any school of thoughts. It is in this context that I would recall Rabindranath Tagore’s works while I discuss Dhanur’s works. Dhanur creates images that could be understood as pure forms which in a strict sense do not let any narrative to manifest. They are forms shaped out of the primordial rhythms of an artistic mind co-ordinated with a skilful hand. But at the same time these images within their fluidity itself solidify during the optical engagements of the viewer and let narrative to take place at their will. According to me, these narratives could be imaginative as well as representational. When it is an imaginative narrative (not only for the artist but also for the viewers), the momentary solidification of images helps the viewer to trace their contours and read them as per their relational possibilities. Hence, two interlocking forms could become a couple in love, two clouds like formations could be a beautiful dance and so on. In the representational narratives, in a very subtle way the artist places images against a mesmerizing background and I have discerned them as the representations of birds, faces and landscapes. Taking the critical freedom to read the images as text and with this perennial itch to find out subtexts out of it, I could clearly say that the bird imagery as quick and elegant as their flitting in the firmament brings forth the idea of freedom that Dhanur always wants to highlight in his works and life. Faces, like the special interest that Tagore had taken in the hagiographic representations of the real and imaginary people, for this young artist too, are the locations where he could capture the essence of the enigma called life. In the present series too, Dhanur has taken keen interest in creating a series of faces, at times multiple faces within a single frame, with his rhythmic lines and fluid contours. Landscapes, though they do not represent particular places, become an integral part of Dhanur’s thinking and I take great pleasure in saying that these landscapes could stand the test of the time and prove this artist’s worth. JohnyML