Exhibition Review: Satta Hashem 'In Conflict'
4 March 2013
Satta Hashem's solo-show, In Conflict: Reflections on the Constant War in Iraq, exhibited in New Art Exchange's Central and Mezzanine Galleries, features a selection of ink drawings, acrylic paintings and mono-screen prints, spanning the past 10 years since the invasion of Iraq. Hashem's drive is not to create propaganda; instead he presents an emotional response to the war. The works are always aesthetically striking and communicate the personal turbulence of war and the sorrow of loss.
The exhibition begins in the Central Gallery which mainly features ink drawings on paper. These works are small and intuitive like doodles. The exhibition title In Conflict describes the Iraq war, but also reflects the chaotic appearance of Hashem's artworks. In his ink drawing 'Widows at War no. 1769', 2012, Hashem depicts four abstract forms suggestive of human figures. Inner turmoil is conveyed through the frenzy of scribbles occupying the figure's heart and head whilst the limbs remain hollow spaces. There is something disturbing about Hashem's refusal to satisfy the viewer's natural urge to read the subject's facial expression. The artist frequently uses widows as his subject matter, which contrast to the cold statistics of war- often the only aspect of war that we see.
The Mezzanine Gallery contains larger drawings and Expressionist paintings upon large canvases. These life-size scenes are windows into another world and it has an emotionally absorbing effect upon its viewer. In 'Life and Death', 2012 Hashem uses colour boldly to express emotion. The theme of conflict is presented aesthetically through the battle for dominance between contrasting colours. The abstract composition consists of a series of dynamic multi-coloured lines spiralling and intertwining through a sea of colours. The absence of a focal point is not restful on the eyes; instead the viewer is forced to actively scan and process the busy surface of the canvas. The energy and movement within the piece is achieved through the wild intuitive application of paint, and it invests the painting with an immediate rawness. In the context of 'Life and Death', the composition shares similarities with an anatomical model; the lines loosely resemble veins, and the red areas raw flesh and blood.
The final series of works within the exhibition are mono-screen prints, which are composed of multi-coloured geometric blocks in a Modernist style. Hashem utilises the theory of Quantum Realism, developed by the Iraqi artist Mahmoud Sabri, to interpret chemical properties into visual forms. The elements Hashem represent belong to chemical warfare, such as uranium, thulium, and iron. This scientific approach differs from the emotional use of colour in his paintings. Alongside his prints is a television screen displaying a slideshow of images which use abstract blocks of colour also determined by Quantum Realism. The television relates to how war is edited, recorded and communicated through news reports. Visually the slideshow is reminiscent of test cards broadcasted of television; another system utilising colour. Compared to other works in the exhibition, Hashem's presentation of the Iraq war is more reflective, still and detached.
Overall, I feel the exhibition deeply explores the emotional effect of war including the anxiety, destruction and loss, and it is conveyed in an engrossing and aesthetically interesting way. Difficult themes emerge in abstract forms- we are given an insight into troubled souls rather than a simple representation of facts. Throughout the exhibition Hashem's artworks balance abstraction with representation, which allowed me to use my imagination and identify with the subject. I did not feel the exhibition solely represents Iraq, but instead the artworks respond to the social and personal effects of any war or any instance of dramatic turmoil. The exhibition represents something deeply troublesome and upsetting, presented in a way that we can all emotionally connect with.
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