I’ve been feeling numb and broken over the passing of my friend Bill King.
The objective reality is that he was a rare human who defied the absurdity and cruelty of our time by relentlessly motivating us to see what we are through playfulness, mystery, wonder, warmth, fragility and strength in his work. He proved to us that it is indeed possible to live with dignity and humanity even in a time like ours. He was 90 years old. Knowing how he was, he probably worked till the very end. Ending of his life should be celebrated as a great achievement.
But I selfishly wish that he still calls me to say hi, that we still exchange studio visits and chat about how things are.
Not feeling like saying good bye to him at all.
Bill, where did you go?
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Please don’t get me wrong. I do feel indescribable sadness and anger about fellow artists being killed in such a cruel way. I feel hopeless that whatever we are can be erased so easily by such an insane violence. I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t have art. If I didn’t have my special relationship to the magical moments in my studio, if I didn’t have the ecstatic joy of feeling connected to total strangers through the evidences of those moments, and if my work didn’t pull me out of my destructive drinking habit, I wouldn’t be alive today.
There are two reasons why my profile picture doesn’t say “I am Charlie Hebdo” — the slogan of support for the magazine Charlie Hebdo. First, as many of my Facebook friends have already pointed out, some of the Charlie Hebdo pieces harshly satirize victims as much as the perpetrators of injustice and inhumanity. My position is that if we lived in a world where opportunities were given equally and everyone was treated equally, it’s probably alright to pick on anyone. I do believe in the power of a simple narrative to shed a light on a mechanism of absurdity.
But we live in a world where a handful of people are monopolizing the power and wealth. I see that as a major premise of our time. It’s the biggest absurdity permeating every level of our lives. Yet, it is the most carefully concealed dynamic of our time. Inequality and injustice is our normal. Racism and white privilege is our horizon line. Satirizing everything equally in this condition, to me, seems to contribute to masking this abnormality. It is an ironic paradox of working in a cultural sphere so thoroughly affected by the hierarchy of money and violence. In particular, attacking Muslims when the West is engaging in devastating colonial wars against Muslim countries, which have resulted in millions of deaths so far, seems to be extremely narrow sighted. Especially when the extreme nature of Islamic nations largely stems from decades of the violent colonial policies of the West. Here is an excellent article on it.
Who Should be Blamed for Muslim Terrorism? by Andre Vltchek
The second reason, I think, is much more important to me. As soon as the event occurred, we were flooded by the mainstream media and world leaders condemning the senseless violence with their blame directly aimed at Islamic extremists, hinting reinforced counter violence and enhanced security measures against Islamic nations. It is obvious that the same people who are engaging in devastating colonial wars of resources for decades are seizing the moment to utilize the tragic deaths to take away more lives and forward their agendas of exploitation and subjugation in the name of freedom and art.
To me the attack in Paris must be seen as a part of the violent excursions being repeated by the Western military interventions. It must be counted as one of the senseless attacks inflicted daily upon the people of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and many other places. These attacks are perpetrated by the people who have been, one way or the other, supported by the Western nations and its allies to destabilize and create failed states of chaos, sufferings and deaths for the interests of the Western corporations and banks. Again, the above article is a good starting point in understanding the colonial history of the Middle East.
I have to stand with people who are losing everything as much as I have to stand up for freedom of speech. These things are not mutually exclusive. Actions to protect free speech must not result in deaths and destruction serving the authoritative order of our time. Those who are already suffering tremendously need more people standing up for their rights to countries, communities, cultures, histories, lands, and their lives. We must face our real enemy hiding behind the voice of free speech.
Here are a few helpful materials to understand the historical background of what we are facing today. Please share them with your friends and your family members:
Reverse Racism by Aamer Rahman
The Crisis of Civilization by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
It’s been a few months since I got back working with paintings after exclusively working on sculptures and drawing for 20 years or so.
It’s exciting to see things, which I learned over the years, being released on the surface becoming layers of a narrative, a presence of its own.
Another painting I just finished a few days ago. The paintings are done on black mat boards, which I bought when I was in graduate school over 20 years ago. I bought a big box of them–a lot of 60 x 40 inch sheets–thinking that I was going to paint on them. But it took a while to get started. Although, the sense of time in studio is weird. I don’t know if its short or long. But I know that I couldn’t have painted this 20 years ago. I’ve seen so many things and I’ve changed so much. But I still go to the studio hoping that I see something special and sometimes I do.
Untitled Painting 002, 40″ x 30″, acrylic, charcoal, enamel and oil, 2014