Lawrie Shabibi is pleased to present In the Heart of the Cosmos, Asad Faulwell’s second solo exhibition at the gallery featuring new works that expand the artist’s celebrated ongoing series Les Femmes d'Alger. The series seeks to shed light on the Algerian women freedom fighters who fought alongside the men as equals during the 1954-1966 Algerian war for independence from French occupation and their largely forgotten legacy.
The title of the exhibition references Black Skins, White Masks the 1952 book by philosopher Franz Fanon whose works explore colonialism, violent opposition, and its lingering phycological implications. Drawing inspiration from Fanon’s writings and Gillo Pontecorvos’s 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, the artist illustrates the women as both saints and villains, aggressors and victims, captured and brutally tormented by their French adversaries and alienated by their Algerian male counterparts who recruited the women with no intention of recognizing their contribution or empowering them after the war ended.
The works in Faulwell’s series are titled Les Femmes D’Alger recalling Delacroix’s 1834 painting of the same name and Picasso’s 1954 homage to it. While those artists depicted anonymous Algerian women in objectified and sexualized scenes, Faulwell chooses instead to present a contemporary version of those paintings examining not only the narratives of specific women warriors, but the suffering they endured as soldiers in the civil war and the moral ambiguity of violent resistance to defy colonial rule. In this way he reevaluates the history of Orientalist portrayals of women from Algeria.
Faulwell adorns the unsung heroines with halos and crowns, painting them in grisaille, to resemble monuments and lend them the air of devotional shrines. In these latest paintings his works have incorporated more complex collage patterns with figures painted in a gold stippling effect. Their wounded pallid visages are set against sumptuously coloured motifs that carpet the backgrounds of the paintings, reminiscent of Matisse’s decorative patterning as well as those from the Faulwell’s own Iranian/Islamic tradition of geometric design and ornamentation. Collaged onto the paintings surfaces are black and white photographs appropriated from news clippings and periodicals the artist has culled through years of research that capture the women on trial in French courts or the moments after their pardon.
Faulwell’s series of paintings commemorate these largely forgotten revolutionaries, yet the artist neither judges nor condones their actions. Whether they are heroes or villains remains at the discretion of the viewer.