Rebuild: Mdeirej Bridge, 2008, gouache on archival digital print/Hahnemühle, 16” x 20; Border from A Chinese Dignitary, a copy in Istanbul, probably made in 15th century Tabrîz, Library of the Topkapì Sarayì Museum, Istanbul Rebuild: Mdeirej Bridge (2008) takes its decorative border from a Persian portrait of a Chinese dignitary, evidence of cultural transmission and exchange, suggesting a dynamic culture not fixed in one time or place. Its floral motif frames a bombed and fallen bridge span, but it is not meant to decorate the damage. David Levi Strauss questions the idea that the more transformed or “aestheticized” an image is, the less “authentic” or politically valuable it becomes. He asks “Why can’t beauty be a call to action?,” asserting that to “represent is to aestheticize; that is, to transform.” He sees aestheticization as “one of the ways that disparate peoples recognize themselves in one another.” Appropriating passages from cultural traditions other than my own has its risks; it can mimic the very idea of conquest that I am critiquing. Nonetheless, as an admitted outsider, I am trying to bridge cultural divides that are both real and constructed. Incorporating imagery from the former Islamic Empire is one way of dispelling prevalent stereotypical notions of its contemporary regions and religions as solely proponents of malignant fundamentalism. My selections counter the media’s endless images of militancy and martyrdom, juxtaposing the highest aspirations of a culture with evidence of its eradication.
Dimensions: 16 x 20 inches