Silent Screen 2015

 

SILENT SCREEN

By Bashar Alhroub

The horror, tragedy and futility of war underpin my latest project - Silent Screen.

When conflict unfolds, it is not taking sides that really matters.  Rather, it is the painful predicaments of humanity that is so perplexing that I often yearn for the earth to swallow me in order so that I may not witness the tragic cruelty of mankind.

In this modern world, we have become “accustomed” to dehumanizing metaphors that aim to justify mass killings and the burying of horrific human rights violations. Propagation of terms such as collateral damage; precision bombings and targeted killings are intended to screen us from the painful deaths and displacement of millions of people.

The countless innocent victims of corporate adventures and war games are dehumanized as if their lives matters less than our own – nameless victims are stripped of their individual identities; unique narratives and humanity. And all the while on our screens, the blinding images keep repeating themselves. Bodies of victims are strewn in killing fields while thousands march across the plains seeking safety and shelter. I am haunted by the faces of innocent men, women and children whose lives have been cut short by the vulgarity of the so called civilized. Sarin gas victims of Ghouta are no different to children fleeing napalm bombings in Vietnam decades before. Srebrenica is no more no less horrific than the senseless slaughter of civilians in Gaza.

Yet, the cameras roll and scenes of horror continue to unfold as if all of humanity has become part of a global theater of the absurd. Logic, rationality and decency have given way to hatred; racism and violence. Inevitably, all the scenes reach their ultimate conclusion, silence.

 

Silent Screen

By:Jonathan Harris

PhD, Professor of Global Art & Design Studies and Director of Research at Birmingham City University, UK.

 

Bashar Alhroub’s new paintings may conventionally be seen as windows to the world, and, no doubt, to the interior world of the artist’s consciousness and unconsciousness. They may also be understood, less conventionally, as figurative walls or barriers creatively blocking the reality of the occupation which invades all Palestinians’ lives including Alhroub’s. Though they may seem to offer or solicit a silent scream, I propose that the massed ranks of the ghoulish faces of the dead or dying, such as in Painting 1 and Painting 2, act as more complex kinds of screens.

 

As literal, material objects, the paintings are decorative furniture where they would be placed somewhere to be viewed and enjoyed. Among other things, they may also be observed as visions of silent screens. They may also go on to literally block the view of something else, even if it is only blank walls behind where they hang. Alhroub’s paintings’ ranked, emaciated, hairless bodies tapering to nothingness form a kind of multi-colored veil, another kind of ‘screen’ or a divider whose psychosomatic effect exemplified here is much more comic than tragic. Paintings 3 and 4 exemplify this by depicting what would be concentration camps or refugee camps. The victims of the camps, interpreted as comic book aliens, float away into an inanimate, abstracted, airless space. These paintings also appear to lift us up from reality rather than drop us down into its grubby depths.

Additionally, as rigid structures or boards, these paintings offer resistance. ‘Screen’ in the late-nineteenth century also meant any thin extended surface set up to intercept shots in gunnery trials. Screens over door frames also stop invaders from entering our homes including mosquitoes, flies and other swarming creatures that would seek to monopolize our resources and living room. Moreover, though Painting 5 might be thought to reference historical detail onto these distracted alien bodies, given that the central figure unmistakably wears a Second World War-era soldier’s helmet, the ‘mini-me’ is more Austin Powers than Allied Powers. When the ‘screen effect’ acts as partition, the division of a space into different areas, whether it is an actual space, a pictorial space or a mental space, it creates an unlikely one for joviality.

In Painting 6, the squashed alien inhabitants bear on their heads the weight of what looks like a densely heterogeneous sediment of bedding materials, bringing to mind the mid-nineteenth century sense of a screen meaning a roughly tabular body of older rock separating two intrusions. ‘Soft’ in Liverpudlian dialect means silly or stupid. The depicted bedding/rock in Painting 6 appears soft and light, tending once more to the light-heartedness rather than the despondency of the painting. Another painting exemplifying this is painting 8 where a weightless alien floats above a group of four below. This painting contrasts Painting 11 where the grounded chickens are suspended above a group of aliens. To a degree, Alhroub’s paintings serve as ‘sight screens.’ They present an image as they filter out others. In that sense, they are witty shields against pernicious visual distractions. Painting 14 most clearly manifests this: the yellow open-mouthed alien has a head and shoulders surrounded by a hovering picture frame or postage stamp edge. The picture stands as a meta-commentary on itself as ‘image’, and the cutting out process that any figuration involves.

The frame within the painting also figures the idea of screen to mean tube or monitor for the projection of film or television images. Perhaps the cartoon-like quality of all these paintings derives from this trace of the TV picture; a vehicle for the emanation of Tom and Jerry and Top Cat, for example. The faces of the aliens in Paintings 16, 17, and 18 offer irreducible detail as they are more simulacra for the idea or vision of individual identity. While this could be interpreted, again, as tragic, it more realistically suggests the strong tendency toward caricatures in satirical and comic illustrations. Perhaps this is why these portraits and their lurid colorings remind us of Picasso’s darkly comic excursions into monster-anthropoid physiognomy in his paintings from the 1920s and early 1930s as well as the later work in the mid-60s.

Furthermore, ‘screen’ also means to check or examine something. In medicine, this refers to the search for the presence or the absence of disease. Several of Alhroub’s paintings appear to show the insides of the alien bodies with traces of unlikely items in the organs such as the apple in the belly of the alien in Painting 15. These works may pass as anatomy lesson that reminds us of the famous 1940s fake alien dissection film in Roswell, New Mexico. Painting 13 even suggests a kind of x-ray process in a darkroom setting, one of only two paintings in the show with such background color. The black is significant as it also serves as a figurative device suggesting the attempt and capacity to hide something.

Moreover, the psychological term of a ‘screen memory’ refers to a childhood memory of an insignificant event recalled to block the recollection of a significant emotional event. More than any other element, the use of color has a similar function in Alhroub’s paintings depicting the depth and flatness of the literal surface as background, cloak, and space. Painting 4 most concisely embodies this use of color as well as the subterranean humor that bursts to the surface in all these works despite the well-worn apocalyptic iconography he utilizes. The wobbly yet groovy alien in this painting might be taking part in a screen test to play a drunken Martian.

In conclusion, to screen simultaneously means ‘to show’ and ‘to check’ and ‘to hide’. As such, a screen contains its own opposite sense and the sense of revaluation. Alhroub’s witty new paintings manage to perform the same illusion.

 

All definitions are taken from the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993)