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Magnifying disparities

Nicky Nodjoumi's deliberately misaligned images underline the disharmony in society

‘Push and Pull’, oil on canvas

 By Jyoti Kalsi

Nicky Nodjoumi's work treads the fine line between art and politics. The Iranian artist has been living in exile in New York since the 1979 revolution in his country. But he continues to keenly observe and comment on the political situation in Iran. However, his first solo exhibition in Dubai, titled Educating the Horse, indicates that his work goes beyond historical and geographical contexts to make universal statements about the power games being played at various levels in society, the injustices suffered by ordinary people at the hands of the few who have power and influence, and the imbalances and inequalities that exist in our world.

Inspiration from newspapers
The artist draws inspiration from newspapers. He begins every painting with a collage made from pictures cut from newspapers and magazines.

"I am particularly interested in photo-graphs of politicians because I like to study their body language. I play with the pictures by cutting out an outstretched hand, putting one person's head on another's body, misaligning different parts of the bodies or changing the size of the figures. I then make a drawing based on the collage and finally use that to make my oil and watercolour paintings," Nodjoumi says.

Through this process, he creates familiar yet surreal images and situations that invite viewers to read between the lines and look at the dark reality behind the stories and pictures published in the newspapers. Nodjoumi uses various artistic devices to create his layered narratives.

The most obvious element in his paintings is the difference in the size of the figures. Oversized figures — often wielding a stick — dominate the canvases, representing the politicians, multinational companies, businessmen and religious leaders whose greed for power ruthlessly crushes the hopes and desires of ordinary people, depicted as compressed, cowering figures. And the exaggerated difference in the size of the figures also highlights the disparities in society, ranging from the differences between the East and the West and the rich and the poor to the difference between the words and actions of politicians.

By deliberately misaligning the torso and the legs of his characters, the artist expresses a sense of cultural dislocation and comments on the changing dynamics of global politics.

He breaks up a painting into different planes with lines or blocks of different colours to mirror opposing value systems and emphasise the sense of fragmentation.

And sometimes he twists reality by showing a difference between the top half of the painting and its supposed shadow at the bottom. For instance, in a composition titled It is All Over, an innocent newborn baby's shadow reveals two wheeling and dealing politicians.

But the characters in Nodjoumi's paintings are also connected in various ways to represent the complex relationships between people and countries that dictate political and corporate policies which ultimately affect society.

In a large oil painting titled Push and Pull, two men are entangled in a game of cat's cradle, each trying to pull the other's leg with the strings in his hands. In Just Having Fun, two men, one of whom is pictured upside down, are tied together, highlighting the role of relationships in maintaining harmony in society.

Nodjoumi balances his dark themes with a bright palette of colours and touches of humour. Picasso's famous Harlequin appears often as a part of the tyrants in the paintings, suggesting that these pompous men are clowns who do not know what they are doing.

And his enigmatic captions sometimes provide insights into the concept behind the painting — but often they are deliberately misleading.

Despite the grim reality he depicts, elements such as the unstable, crumbling bodies of the aggressive bullies in his paintings and their cut-off hands and changed heads express the artist's hope that someday things will change. "After all, can a horse be confined in a net? Does it need to be educated and can you really educate a horse by using a stick?" asks the artist, subtly alluding to the restrictions and ideologies imposed on people in Iran today.

Transcending borders
Although there are a few direct references to Iran in his paintings, Nodjoumi has deliberately kept the background neutral and free from individual or regional context. Commenting on his work, the artist says: "My work is not only about my country. It is about the dark side of human existence and the theatre of cruelty being played out around the world.

"I recently saw pictures from China of policemen wielding sticks, looking just like the characters in my paintings. The division of my canvas into separate planes represents different and opposing cultures and underlines the sense of otherness. It creates a multilayered effect with the implicit significance shrouded under seemingly explicit meaning.

"Through these differing sections, I want to express confrontation and explore the relationship between content and form while provoking a critical, cultural and sociological discourse. My paintings are about the contemporary times, sometimes brutal and savage, and sometimes poetic. They are about the here and now," Nodjoumi says.

 From Left: ‘Educating the Horse’, oil on canvas, ‘From Diary Series’, ink and gouache

Via Gulf News: Weekend Review
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