by Taylor Kigar, Staff Writer/Photographer
“Everything in the room is fractured, each one balanced just to the point before collapse. It’s an architectural graveyard after the most deliberate earthquake in the world…”
It is September 20th and champagne is settling in chilled, fluted glasses. Relish trays circle the museum floor, and a dark haired woman stands up to speak.
It is September 20th and the civil war in Syria has been declared a stalemate. Both sides have splintered into packs of wild dogs, and the preservation of the country’s cultural sites has become another battlefield altogether.
It is September 20th and the dark haired woman stands. Her new show opens at the SCAD museum in Savannah, yet she connects hundreds of people in the space to a world over 50,000 miles away—she just doesn’t know it yet.
The woman is sculptor Diana Al-Hadid. Born in Aleppo, Syria and raised in America, she is honored today for her self-titled show, and speaks of her inspirations from Eastern myth, architecture, and the classical masters. Many publications spend a great deal of time solely on her Syrian background, and though she admits a large number of her pieces are devoted to joining both Eastern and Western cultures, she is even more vocal about her other influences–and rightly so. Just as a female artist doesn’t want her work known simply for feminist issues, Al-Hadid fears history will pigeon hole her due to a single aspect of her life.
A giant eroding wall blocks the entrance to her show. Like something from a cave, it’s covered in thin, dripping stalactites of subtle purples and blues. I look closer and realize that in some places it’s eroded all the way through, creating fine lines of negative space that make up a hidden grid within the dry wall. I step inside.
There are four large-scale sculptures. Everything in the room is fractured, each one balanced just to the point before collapse. It’s an architectural graveyard after the most deliberate earthquake in the world, and I walk around with tentative steps.
The piece, Tomorrow’s Superstitions, is like a maelstrom of arches, twisting the structure in on itself to create a stunning and visually disturbing vortex of doomed, cyclical history. Actor, another free standing piece, is made up of seven slabs of wood jutting sharply upward. It’s a cold blue impression of a jagged city, with broken buildings and ruined tapestries pierced together by bare steel. Al Hadid creates nightmares of the present through the image of her past; a horizon of what used to be and what is no longer.
To my right is a melting altar, a once sacred space torn into oblivion. To my left is a headless figure dripping onto an already dissolving pedestal. Every piece has a silent desperation, and an unnaturally still air. I wait for them to explode.
The civil war in Syria is erupting around ancient ruins and citadels. Gold plated sculptures are smuggled across the border, and Roman Era mosaics are chiseled off the walls. Al-Hadid’s inspirations and origins are literally smashing each other into gravel an entire world away from her, and somehow she has created her own ornate tempest in their form. What may have started in Hadid’s mind as a study of space and ancient history has turned into a very real interpretation of the history that’s being made today. Her natural aesthetic mirrors the exploded innards of buildings, and her use of small negative spaces become the flecks of light shimmering through bullet holes in the wall. Inspirations taken from ancient myths and old architecture may give Al-Hadid’s work a historic and classical air, but the violence and context in which they are presented position them undeniably in the present. She has accidentally created the story of her old world; a world turned upside down and even though it’s broken it won’t stop spinning.
It is September 20th. One day the war in Syria will end, but it is not today. Wounds will heal, buildings will be remade, and though it was not her intention, Al-Hadid’s work will remain a wary reminder, and an exquisite warning, frozen forever in her nation’s period of violence.
Diana Al-Hadid’s exhibit “Diana Al-Hadid” will be up at the SCAD Museum of Art until January 12, 2014.