Private view: Thursday 7 March 2013, 6-8.30pm
Exhibition runs: 7 March - 18 April 2013
Maliheh Afnan writes her paintings. Her inspiration flows from her Middle Eastern roots, from her instinctive attachment to the tradition of calligraphy and her knowledge of the mysteries of the ancient languages of the region. Her script, to which she refers to as écriture, is in essence a linear accumulation of signs. Composed in fluent rhythms, Afnan’s scriptural structures seem to illuminate unspoken poems. Her lines appear in single formations, in clusters or in linear configurations, in a script seemingly written by time itself. The rhythmic order of signs, gestures, repetitive movements of micro-calligraphic marks contain within themselves great expressive energy. In her paintings calligraphic elements emerge from deep earth coloured surfaces, build up by layers of paint like palimpsests. Successions of pre-representational signs of abstract informality, refuse to refer to any subject.
“Script is abstract in its essence. I don’t turn it into an abstract, it is abstract. Written in the Persian or Arab language calligraphy has been a very highly developed art form. By tradition calligraphy is about the worship of words through writing them. But this writing had always to be readable. I was never interested in the literal meaning of the text.”
The act of writing, of making an image, its very emergence and permanent presence as an image is its purpose and resolution. Afnan’s paintings are fields of subtle actions and interactions. Lines and scriptural rhythms combine with modulations within colour-surfaces, their interplay create vibrating dynamic spaces. In pursuit of her imago, her inner image, the artist’s work flows unconsciously, containing the richness of a life’s experience in which presence and past meet.
Calligraphy, the art of writing, has been a major source to the artist, but another inspirational impulse is as important for our understanding of her work. This is her love for the textures and colours of the ancient ruins of the Middle East and North Africa, for the shards of terracotta found in the desert sands with fragments of writings on them. Afnan’s sense of her own time as a single moment within the flow of historical time, meanings and memories reverberate for ever present in her paintings.
As in the works of Paul Klee and Mark Tobey line has predominance in Afnan’s work. While in Paris in the 1970’s and 1980’s she begun to make a number of haunting drawings and paintings of faces in a series she calls personages. They are not portraits but represent imaginary features which seem to summarise the melancholy of displacement. These personages are mostly male. They seem to exist suspended in time. Their faces are like landscapes marred by tragic histories and broken lives. In silent knowledge of loneliness and suffering, they seem to look at us from windows of ruined buildings. They are like Nicholai Gogol’s lost souls victims and witnesses, who have emerged from the dust of city streets.
“The notion of memory is a central theme and motive in my work. I would say, my work is rooted in memory, both in my own and perhaps collective memory. Unconsciously but continually I refer to places, scripts and faces from the past, both real and imagined. If all of one’s life is registered in the recesses of the unconscious, then one’s work might simply be an unravelling, filtering and transforming of memory through time. Memory is very real.”