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Art Watch : Tala Madani

Tala Madani is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Madani’s work always begins inside her sketchbooks, where she explores the violence and the vulnerability that her subjects shall experience. The middle aged men are forced into uncomfortable situations. From Madani’s imagination, they become tools to express and challenge gender and sexual identities in society today. The paintings are characteristically inelegant and colloquial. Her style of creating these images assumes that there is no distance between her audience and her works. The satirical humour she engages, is her tool to melt any guards and barriers viewers may approach her work with. She sees herself as voyeur, and invites us to be the same, exploring and establishing that as a factual reality.

Tala Madani’s painted canvases and animations conjure up enigmatic scenes. These anonymous men surreptitiously appear as if on stage where, apparently unconcerned about whether they are being watched, they laugh at each other, touch each other, paint each other, and even torment each other. And in doing so provide us with a built in critique of society.

Why Tala Madani?

Madani’s work typically is with a view to deconstruct masculinity. She is interested in breaking down stereotypes and preconceived roles to explore power structures and the construction of male identity, and the roles of women. Her work usually showcases men (animation) enacting pitiable acts, in the midst of compulsive violations on their flabby, ageing bodies. The humour that punctuates the tension of these awkward situations, is dark and never really simple release. One can say that comedy and humiliation uncomfortably coexist.

Until 2013, Madani’s cast of characters was exclusively male, before she embarked upon two new and distinct bodies of work: the ‘Peter and Jane’ series and the ‘Pussy Paintings’. The Peter and Jane series recounts the didactic exploits of the children from the Ladybird Learn to Read books, produced in Britain and exported around the world, a throwback to Madani’s childhood in the 1980s, in Iran. In her versions of the illustrations, characteristically she has errant bodily fluids and miniature men invade illustrations of the exploits of white middle- class children.

Madani’s controversial ‘Pussy Paintings’ depict a young girl who leaning back with her legs splayed in reference to Gustave Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du Monde’, 1866. The two painted bald men huddle beneath her, lewdly craning their necks to leer up her skirt. The girl is silkscreened, while the men are painted in oils, thereby implicitly locating the figures in different planes.

Madani was born 1981 in Tehran, Iran and lives and works in Los Angeles.

Awards and Recognition

Tala Madani was awarded the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting (2013), the De Volkskrant Art Award (2012), shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, Pinchuk Art Centre (2012), the Van den Berch van Heemstede Stichting Fellowship (2008), and the Kees Verwey Fellowship (2007). She was artist in residence at the British School of Rome (2010), and The Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam (2007).


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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