Selected works by Tala Madani

Tala Madani
Seeking Cake Inside

2006

Oil on canvas

24 x 31 cm

Iranian-American artist Tala Madani paints a provocative and humorous discourse on cultural and sexual identity. Picturing the male domain in all its stereotypical glory, Madani’s portraits of Middle Eastern men play out fictive rituals of a deviant, distinctly female imagination: prayer gatherings twisted into homosexual orgies, birthday parties targeted for terrorist attack, and tattoos and body hair plucking construed as the latest in ultra-macho beauty makeovers. In devising her scenes of aberrant ceremony, Madani pinpoints the very essence of frustration, fervour, and inadequacy.

Tala Madani
Fork in Tattoo

2006

Oil on canvas

31 x 23 cm

Stylistically ranging from lush painterly expressionism to loose, almost comical line drawing, Madani conveys her politically controversial subject matter with a genuine innocence and empathy. Rendered in soft, pastel palettes, her figures are humanised with a sentimental goofiness that belies their zealous bravado. Whether engaging in torture via flatware, engaging in group grooming, or assassinating chummy rivals, Madani’s cohort are less dangerous than cringe-worthy; their fetishised violence rendered tragic and flaccid, contriving the phenomenon of male bonding an embarrassing and lovable spectacle.

Tala Madani
Diving in Cake

2006

Oil on canvas

31 x 24 cm

Appropriating the preconceptions of racial and gender difference as a departure point into the bizarre and surreal, Madani uses her position of ‘other’ to draft her own elaborate fantasies, detailing a riotous underworld of cliquey sect-like subterfuge. The motif of the birthday cake recurs in Madani’s paintings as an emblem of masculine ego. The impotence of melting candles protracting to the ultimate conclusion of ‘blow them out/blow them up’, as pink gooey pastries become the signature trademark of her maverick suicide bombers.

Tala Madani
In Line

2006

Spray paint and oil on canvas

122 x 122 cm

In Line combines Madani’s sensitive approach to drawing with the more irreverent processes of graffiti. Using spray paint as a medium of protest, Madani juxtaposes its matted aerosol texture against fluid and pluming lines of oil paint. Picturing a men’s forum where peek-a-boo party games transform into opportunities for assassination Madani renders this scene with the measured flourish of calligraphy, tempering absurdity and cartoon violence with an antiquated gracefulness.

Tala Madani
Holy Light

2006

Marker and oil on canvas

122 x 122 cm

Drawing from her Iranian heritage where strict social etiquette creates a division between the sexes, Madani’s paintings gleefully envision what she imagines to be the ‘goings on’ at men-only events. In Holy Light, Madani pictures an everyday prayer meeting as a ritual of a more erotic variety, as devotees cower from the golden shower of divine blessing. Drawn out with marker pen and layered with yellow paint, Madani renders this scene with minimal detail, the painting’s crude content becoming a loaded approach to formalism.

Tala Madani
Tower Reflection (and detail)

2006

Oil on canvas

183 x 396 cm

The larger Madani’s paintings, the more abstract they become. While her tiny canvases embellish scenes with engrossing detail, pieces such as Tower Reflection – which spans 4 metres – reduce her outrageous narratives to only a few brush strokes. This shift in size draws comparison between the public understanding of complicated issues of violence and cultural identity and how they become manifest in individual experience. Madani considers these different ways of working as confronting two opposing dialogues of painting. Tower Reflection addresses the incompressible scale of terror with unnerving simplicity. Set against an interior decor toned backdrop, roughly drawn squares, evocative of aeroplane or theatre seating, pile on the canvas in emergency orange. Framed by two rectangular ‘windows’ the spectacle plays out with diagrammatic accuracy of one ‘motif’ passing through the other: a physical crash, a spiritual ‘crossing over’, or the gross transformation of horror into instant replay media.

Tala Madani
Nosefall

2007

Oil on linen

210 x 190 cm

Madani’s Nosefall uses cartoonish exaggeration to comically devise an army of ineffectual suicide bombers. Taking ideas of macho identity to the extreme, Madani’s characters become unwittingly effeminate buffoons, undermined by their own zeal. Their prostate devotional poses ironically double as sexually submissive positions, a joke enhanced by suggestively phallic parachutes and pink mankini uniforms. Hardly the image of international threat, the entire squad is prone to high altitude nosebleeds. Madani paints this with subtle variation of style, using a combination of solid flat patterns and hurried sketching to create a sense of floating or weightlessness; the splash marks of gushing blood hint that the men have never left the ground.

Tala Madani
Braided Beard

2007

Oil on canvas

36 x 28 cm

Madani’s cloistered gatherings of men are humorously imagined through an ironic portrayal of girl-culture, their clubby skullduggery emasculated against the background of female rituals such as sleepovers, spa treatments, and bake-offs. In Braided Beard Madani envisions a barber shop as a setting for camped up erotica, with a hirsute bear-type getting a pampering session he didn’t bargain for. Madani replicates this melodramatic fussiness using her loose painting style as a key component of her epicene narrative: the elaborately patterned carpet and the man’s hairy legs point to a feminine eye for detail and decoration and the hamfisted clumsiness of its male approximation.

Tala Madani
Two Pillows and a Bolster

2007

Oil on linen

30 x 40 cm

Two Pillows and a Bolster devises a ‘slap-and-tickle’ approach to formal painting. Picturing a man lying across a bed with his unwound turban suggesting the final stages of seduction, the visual clues to his wantonness lie in the painting’s composition rather than its image: the mattress and pillows form a female torso, the man’s body creates an immodest shape and angle. Rendered in the muted tones of soft-porn, Madani’s muse resolves as a lusty wannabe centrefold, or more comically, a frustrated and repressed depiction of a quiet night in for one.

Tala Madani
Pink Cake

2008

Oil on canvas

40 x 30 cm

Madani’s recurring cake motif was inspired by a child’s birthday party she witnessed in Tehran, where the festive celebrations seemed to incongruously include businessmen, a PA system and American coloured decorations. This mosh-up of signifiers suggested an interesting parallel for the act of painting itself, conceiving the canvas as a site of contradiction, invention, and fantasy. Pink Cake captures this ambience of surrealism in both its subject and style with her cake-laden brief-clad machismos elucidated by luscious and intuitional mark-making, jumbling delicate washes and fluid lines with glutinous impastos of intoxicatingly saccharine hues.

Tala Madani
Elastic Pink

2008

Oil on canvas

250 x 195 cm

As a painter, Madani has been compared to Matisse because of her use of pure colours, geometric compositions and expressive patterning. In contrast with her controversial subject matter, her large paintings are self-consciously aesthetic, borrowing from the ‘feminine’ styles and tones of printed fabrics. In Elastic Pink, her troops of parachuters are barely recognisable; instead their trademark brown and pink bodies become an abstract design focusing concentration on the painting’s construction. Each splotch of colour reverberates with energy as brush marks bleed between opaque and transparent to reveal minute details scratched into the surface. Compositionally dividing the canvas into two parts, Madani gives the impression of movement, like two panes of a comic or frames of film.

Tala Madani
Pose

2006

Oil on canvas

31 x 31 cm

In Pose Madani’s beefy terrorist strikes a classic pin-up posture, farcically boasting his recent body waxing as a hero’s survival of exquisite torture. Executed with the apocalyptic glow of sunset exotica, Madani stages his glory with a clichéd romanticism redolent of Hollywood film posters or Gauguin’s Tahitian virgins. Traces of her casual brush strokes give the scene a languid dreamy effect, her sharp dabs, replicating oozing blood and plucked hairs, punctuating the canvas’s serene surface with exaggerated cartoon severity.

Tala Madani
Withered

2006

Oil on canvas

26 x 20 cm

Madani’s Withered is from a series of paintings exploring men’s sexuality. Transplanting the metaphor of the female ‘garden’ to the realm of masculinity, Madani’s balding blokes are confounded by the flourish of greenery sprouting from their pants, only to face the further social embarrassment of botanical wilting at an inopportune moment. Similar to her cake paintings, Madani’s horticulture theme is conceived as a sub-cultural activity rife with macho-ego, sexual innuendo, and competitive violence.

Tala Madani
Ice Cream

2008

Oil on canvas

195 x 240 cm

Madani’s paintings substitute slap-stick comedy for violence, drawing from the conventions of comic book illustration where hyperbolised stories and exaggerated forms become allegories for complex social issues. In Ice Cream pink and brown paint rolls down the canvas, the strawberry-chocolate colours of Neapolitan gelato conjuring Mafioso affiliation, its sickly sweet gore transforming blood bath to festive delight. Madani renders the men’s faces as drawings within a drawing, heightening the simple two dimensionality of their farcical world and making reference to both balaclavas and women’s veils.

Tala Madani
Man In Cape

2008

Oil on linen

50 x 40 cm

Articles

MAD MEN: TALA MADANI
2011, Rajesh Punj, Canvas Magazine

There is a wonderful charm and intoxicating aura about Tala Madani’s canvases as they read like incidents from a sophisticated comic strip. The paint rests on the surface like indulgent scoops of ice-cream smeared onto the counter of a well-established delicatessen. Though for all their visual warmth, Madani’s works allude to a violence and authoritarianism that is as much domestic as it is universal.
The painter’s characters are childlike, playful even, in their compositional expressions, as they appear not only to wrestle with one another but with their fate as figures in paint. Given to explaining her work, Madani begins by declaring herself “a painter and not an artist”. For her, she says, “the artist has an ego over the material while a painter is much more subservient to their materials.” She goes on to further explain her paintings “as me acting upon the canvas”. She defines that “the four corners of a canvas create an abstract space where I can commit my actions.”
For Madani, her paintings are eclipsed only by her animations, which we touch upon when discussing the direction of her work. Incisive in her short films, Madani declares there is a “greater effectiveness” in what you can do – “Animation is more sharable, portable even.” Immediately there is a sense that painting and animation have a hierarchical position as the tools of her trade and Madani admitted “to painting being more difficult, while my animations have reached a greater number of people”. She adds that “it is so much to do with our education systems and developments of visual cultures globally, that animations and moving images are more accessible.”
FEMME FATALE
Madani was born in Tehran in 1981 and now lives between Amsterdam and New York. Reading political science and visual art at Oregon State, she was awarded the University President’s Award for Excellence in Art. Graduating from Yale University with a Master’s in Painting in 2006, she received the Visual Arts Fellowship from The Fine Arts Work Centre, Provincetown in 2006 and the Kees Verwey Fellowship in 2007.
She has shown in a number of group exhibitions, including Saatchi’s Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, and will be participating in the Venice Biennale’s Dutch Pavilion this year.
As a resident of both Europe and the USA, Madani is influenced by pretty much everything there is and specifically references cartoonist Robert Crumb, the ‘Chicago Imagists’ who hailed from the 1960s and 70s and the work of American painter Alice Neel. Theatre, film, illustration and Japanese prints are the buzz words for Madani as it becomes less and less possible to define her practice to a particular moment or movement. Recalling her early works, the unnerving grouping of men in canvases like In Line (2006) suggests something of the shackling of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Holy Light (2006) is another impulsive work that appears to have been violated by slick threads of paint that have discoloured the majority of the canvas. This might represent light as it pours unceremoniously over another group of beleaguered men whose hands are clasped behind their backs. Is this depicted moment a precursor to divine ecstasy or the pre-emptive massacre of men? Might these be the secret police of the Libyan dictate, Egypt’s rallied generals acting out their desires behind closed doors or are they Syria’s secret intelligentsia, indulging in private pleasure? Are we privy to such detail or are our tentative urges for the identity of these half-naked men indulging themselves futile?
This uncertainty is something of the strength of Madani’s paintings, as they manage with incredible gusto to challenge our understanding of the Middle East and power-structures in general.
The artist wishes, between Europe and the USA, to critique the stature of all men by stripping them on their masculine apparatus and replacing it with the foolish tools of idiots.
If Violence appears at the core of all Madani’s works, then it is imperative to ask why. Provocatively for her, violence as it exists in her work is not necessarily the abhorrent act- It is the regularity of it among men, the reasonableness and the celebratory air about it that appeals to her. Quite possibly, the manner in which violence has effectively infiltrated our imagination, as it becomes a domestic action as well as an international crime Madani suggests that within her paintings, these figures are allowed the freedom to celebrate violence as it exists at that moment.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
When referencing her early works, In Line and Holy Light from 2006, Madani defines her interest in “the masses”, of how “these linear motifs of men, moved between abstraction, detail and then effectively returned to abstraction”. And apart from the fact that they appear cast under the same spell, Madani defines her early decision to paint men – “it wasn’t a conscious choice of men over women, it was a process of elimination because I didn’t want to cartoonise the female figure with exaggerated breasts etc.”
More troubling are works like Tower Reflection 2006, a four-metre long canvas of repeated gestural strokes that are depicted as figures on all fours, as Madani suggests the labour of men is subservient to a clandestine system of civil obedience. The hypnotic charm of this work is in its use of washed-out red arches, crudely repeated over the canvas against Madani’s uncanny use of perspective, as each of her figures are disseminated by crass grid patterns. With a slight of hand, these abstractions fast become configurations of forms as the arches, decorated as figures, rest on all fours, appearing poised by their duty to one another; each tier of men closer to death or freedom. The rationale for such a configuration of men is what is so puzzling about this work, because it can only suggest one of two things: detainees’ subjection to routine acts of violence or the endless history of violence as it is subjected upon a community of men; The Groundhog Day effect, as Madani refers to it. In such canvases, she appears to have rationalised the irrational, given form to the circumstances of man’s inhumanity to man.
Where the crudeness of these initial scenes hold your attention in 2006, in works from 2007 and more especially 2008, Madani’s paintings appear more sophisticated for their palette and at the same time, she appears to apply greater detail to her forms. This is a clear distinction between Madani’s earlier works, “which are larger canvases with a greater mass of people and the smaller works with more detail and fewer figures”. Those figures take on unmistakable characteristics and interiors appear more resolved without becoming finished. Madani still manages to allude effectively to the animation of a moment that constitutes many moments of violence the world over, by being more considered in her forms yet retaining the looseness of her brushstrokes.
Nosefall 2007 is a work that reflects Madani’s men. This placid painting depicts a platoon of men dressed in pink leotards preparing for parachute dives. With seemingly little effort, Madani brilliantly subverts their macho apparatus as phallic symbols that they have attached to their less masculine selves. In this utterly perverse work of beauty we are privy to the closed circles of men demonstrating their prowess for perfunctory ends. Resembling animated guerrillas admiring one another, these replicated figures in oil appear plagued by nosebleeds – an affliction that renders this troop more titillating than tyrannical.
This work takes Madani back to a recent working visit to Iran and a moment when she revealed two works with phallic undertones (to a lecture theatre of attending undergraduates at Tehran
niversity) and surprisingly for Madani, instead of brushing the moment aside, “the students laughed quite violently, especially the more conservative ones,” she recalls.
IN LOVE AND WAR
The mix-up of cake and conflict is the abrasive energy that illuminates Madani’s work time and again. Elastic Pink (2008) is a delicious work of contorted chocolate and vanilla-coloured figures and in Pink Cake (2008), two semi-naked men front up to one another in a cacophony of cake and candlesticks, and appear to be indulging in an act of machismo and sexual perversity.
The confrontation is charged by a mix of mutual lust and masochistic violence. In Clown Victim (2008), Madani employs the recurring motif of the clown face as a disguise for the actions of violent men. Clown Victim is a disturbing work, painted with measured gusto, depicting two men, side by side, a scene that could equally be read as sexually charged or an act of violence. In Spraying Stripes (2008), Madani’s figures appear to be classified in a similar vein as the incumbent recipients of craven acts of capital punishment; whether that be at Guantanamo Bay or an insurgent’s compound in the Afghan mountains. The spray-can could well be replaced by a hand gun and the paint by blood, as they appear ready for execution in this laborious setting of dictate and domestics, all fixed to a pink rug. BHaus (2009) is a distinctive work that is a graphic reflection of Madani’s preoccupation with power structures.These multi-coloured men appear quietly committed to their symbolic circus trick.
When pressed, Madani appears to have moments of unsolicited frustration which call her to demand a degree of activism on our part, so that reality can be questioned. Touching upon her relationship to Iran and what is possible as an Iranian artist now, Madani has a healthy skepticism for all cultural constructs, whether they stem from the Middle East or the Americas. Has she burdened herself when she describes “the impossibility of it all”? Reassuring such fatalism is temporarily replaced by her enthusiasm for her new lexicography of British-built ‘dazzle ships’ that were used during the Second World War to confuse the visual rangefinders of the enemy on the water. A telling new metaphor of what is to come.

Source: canvasonline.com


SMOKE AND MIRRORS
By Roberta Smith

The solo debut of Tala Madani, 26, an Iranian-born painter who came to the United States at 10, is notable. Her works assert that the political is not only personal, painterly and painful but also deeply, affectingly comical and at times nearly abstract. In her small, lush paintings, bald, bearded, dark-skinned, seemingly Middle Eastern men make strange use of lighted birthday cakes.

Machismo, homoeroticism, malice and friendship mingle volatilely, all spelled out in surprising detail (great shirts), given the cartoonish abandon with which Ms. Madani paints.

Her style in the smaller canvases might be described as early William Wegman cartooning by way of Marlene Dumas, Morandi and Amy Sillman. Her assured fusion of the formal and the narrative evokes both Persian miniatures and Western political cartoons.

The cakes are apparently multipurpose instruments of celebration, torture and ritual bonding. In 'Chest Burn' and 'Hand Burn on Back' men char their hands over the candles and then press them into other men's flesh. In 'Embodying Cake one man places candles on the heavily tattooed shoulders of another. Elsewhere the cakes suggest bombs, ski masks or soap.

The patheticness of a world without women is everywhere apparent.

In several large paintings the men multiply, are reduced to masses of repeating calligraphic brush strokes and engage in ambiguous, vaguely contentious or sordid communal events. Abu Ghraib comes to mind. Nonetheless this terrific show stirs optimism about the future of painting and even some irrational hopes about social progress inside the art world and outside it too.

Source: nytimes.com


TALA MADANI
even Oregon State students participate in Model Arab League in Portland

By Katie Willson

Seven OSU students will speak for Palestinian people in an attempt to resolve current social and economic problems at a conference this weekend.

The students leave today for three days of negotiations in Portland, where they will participate in the Model Arab League, a program funded by the National Council of Arab-U.S. Relations.

The event, similar to the Model United Nations, is structured after the actual Arab League, established in 1945 as a way to promote cooperation between Arab countries and as a forum for social, economic and political issues.

Through the model, students from each university choose an Arab country to represent and write resolutions, or statements of action, that they would like to pass. The OSU students chose Palestine.

"The model is an important instrument for American Students to be exposed to Arab countries," said Mounthir Al-Mtwali, a staff member of the League of Arab States in Washington D.C. "They become more acquainted with the history and politics and can form their own opinions. They are in command."

Al-Mtwali stressed that student's perceptions of the Middle East are often changed during the Model Arab League.

Josh Balloch, a senior in Political Science attests to that.

"I had a very low opinion of Arab people before [the Model Arab League]," he said. "But I sat down with the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates and talked with him for an hour."

Through their discussion and his interactions with other students, Balloch came to a realization.

"They're just like me," he said. "They're not any different. They just want their kids to be better and to make a little money. They aren't out to hurt anyone."

Balloch said his earlier perceptions had been formed by "a media that breeds animosity towards Arabs," and that through this process he was able to view the conflict in Israel with an objective perspective.

Tala Madani, a junior in fine arts, became involved after she felt a pull to stand up for the Palestinians, who she feels are not being represented in the U.S.

"I am Iranian," she said, "and the Model Arab League presents an opportunity to talk in-depth about political and social problems facing Arab Nations."

Madani emphasized the importance of programs like the Model Arab League, which "offer an interactive way to learn about negotiation and interpersonal relationships."

In light of increased violence between Israelis and Palestinians over the past 26 months, Madani worries that the weekend will be monopolized by discussion of the issue, as was the case last month when the actual Arab League met in Beirut.

"This conflict concentrated all the League's efforts on Israel and halted constructive efforts concerning other issues," Madani said.

She will focus her resolutions around Palestinian security and peacekeeping.

While the results of the Model Arab League may not have a global effect, these students say preparing to participate in the weekend will forever impact their futures.

"From this process," Madani said, "we have each developed visions and have found others who are also committed to resolving the conflict."

Source: media.barometer.orst.edu