Iskandar, 2017, handmade egg tempera on panel, 240 x 720 cm
Created at the Jamjar Gallery in Dubai. Collection of College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates.
Iskandar, 2017 is a large-scale painting cycle that sets the story of Alexander the Great in the contemporary Middle East. Through corresponding geographic locations, archeological sites and events, this work establishes a series of parallels between the historical legend of Iskandar and the unfolding events in the region post 9/11 to the present day- questioning the ideas of empire, occupation and religious fervor compounded by the quest for self-realization and utopian civilization.
The painting created at thejamjar is an episode from this larger project and depicts the looting of National Museum of Iraq during the first weeks of the American invasion in 2003. The mural is a non-linear composite reality including both historical references and legend, old artifacts from the archeological sites of Nimrud, Nineveh and Hatra -actually present in the museum collection- and broken columns from Persepolis (rising up through the floor of the storerooms) referencing the destruction of the ancient city by Iskandar’s forces in 330 BC. Within the painting can also be found a U.S. military tank, a helicopter crash survivor, Assyrian, Hellenistic and Persian reliefs and a large snake- a symbol of Iskandar’s relationship with the goddess Athena.
Much of the inspiration for this project comes from a work of literature called the Alexander Romance, a mythic biography written shortly after his death, partly attributed to Alexander’s court historian Callisthenes. In this collection of legends, the historical Alexander is depicted as a protean character, able to embody some of the deepest fears and longings of the human condition. The Alexander Romance went on being rewritten, expanded and modified throughout antiquity and forms the basis of an enormous subsequent body of literature on Iskandar that was produced in the Greek East and in Arab, Persian and Indian traditions.
Thank you thejamjar for the opportunity to return and realize this new project, Iskandar. You have been an important support to my development as an artist through the years! In 2013, my artist residency at thejamjar facilitated my first large scale painting installation, an approach that continues to be a primary part of my practice.
Thank you to thejamjar team for welcoming me in the Cloud space. Without your support this project would not have been possible. Thanks to everyone who picked up paint brushes during breaks to help and thank you to thejamjar educators who will enable visitors and students to start conversations and interpret this work. Thank you to thejamjar's talented design and documentation team. A very special thanks to artist Victor Sitali who offered many hours of his time to help bring this painting to life. Thank you to artists Nori Elhami and Nirupama Sibal for coming by the space and painting with me. It was a pleasure to meet all of you in this vibrant arts community.