“What does the lady in the room point towards?”
“What does she want us to know?”
“What is in her shelf, and who is she?”
The preface to this exhibition lies in a drawing titled “Lady at the Dinner Table”, explains our gallery host Guillaume Sultana to us. Made by the artist as a boy in his formative years, it is one of the many works as collected by his mother. Having to flee the chaos of a post-revolutionary Iran, the family had settled in the Soviet Union in the early 1980's, housed at an apartment complex stacked one floor on another in the fellowship of leftist Iranian émigrés. During these years Mirak Jamal first started to draw – his imagination fueled by folkloric tales, funny and horrific things, war stuff on Soviet television, as well as inspiration from his immediate surroundings; namely the living room and kitchen. The collection of these drawings would later accompany the family's migrations further West.
In Paris, we have in front of us one of these drawn impressions attributed to that period, allowing us to zoom in on the exhibition “Mother! Minsk! Where are you!” We enter the space and immediately find “Lady at the Dinner Table” – a yellowed drawing, weightless but framed to protect against overexposure, and time. It is a piece executed by the artist as a five-year old in Minsk, we are told. We can confirm a miniature world wherein an undisputed figure reigns. She faces us reassured, aristocratic, wearing a committed hat and an elaborate dress which drapes downward. The clock looms as if she had been waiting for our arrival all along (since 1985 to be precise). Her right arm points towards some dinner-time inevitables: a table, one chair, a samovar, a bowl of fruits, and a couple other indistinguishable doodles...we summon a wholesome composition in an admirable setting.
From there we are pulled towards a corresponding wall with multiple drywall plates making up a mural. Here, the aristocrat hovers at about four meters tall. We note a fragmented constellation of colors, bearing across the brunt of a prevailing mastermind. The lady of the house has been transcribed in a version that the artist, now surely matured and mindful, has redeemed himself with a large format. The deliberate cuts are crude, and arbitrary machine carvings into the plaster make up a motored re-iteration. She stands unforgiving, and behind the depicted sternness (perhaps not a portrayal of a mother but the artist himself under the cloak?) we sense a smirk of self-gratulation.
“Who is she!”
“Where is the artist anyhow?”
A more acute consideration of the individual plates betrays interwoven realities and timelines. Readily googled images and personal snapshots from the artist's Instagram account invite us into chambers (the exhibition blurb reveals a print transfer technique); we are pulled underwater, through ephemeral cloud clusters, towards a blinding sun, and graze with the fingertips of a crosshatched Dürer over a certain nothing. We have seemingly arrived at the mercy of a desert, and are left with only our lady for guidance. But who is behind her? The wagger of the finger has helped us navigate within this (his, the little boy's) world just as it has coincidentally shown us out of it – piercing through the dining room, and beyond the hermetics of the picture plane towards something more imminent. One can only bargain for an imagined door at this juncture (a giant window stands here instead). I suggest to take the offer. We leave the city limits of Minsk to congregate towards that which is the visceral pull of this semi-cold February awaiting us on the outside...
Contribution by Domenico de Chirico.
Mirak Jamal - Mother! Minsk! Where are you!
Sultana, February 19 - April 16