Tala Madani. What the heck?

There are some painters who quibble, who play the shy, fooling around. Madani (born in 1981), grabs the (polysemic) bucket, and goes straight for it. Her painting, I’d say, reaches some extraordinary level of affirmation. This gal’s got some things to say, and she does. I don’t know everything, but I do not believe I could check of any painting this much stated, meaning : Most of painters, whether we like it or nort, do inscribe themselves in a kind of filiation, be it contemporary or more ancient, it doesn’t mind. This, in a way, unavoidable filiation, for many, can play the role of a nice pair of blinkers. Wearing blinkers does not mean being blind, it’s just makes the horse go straight on, not being disturbed nor distracted. Blinders, Madani never wore some : first clue of what I call ‘affirmation’. And then, there is the touch. Here again, Madani does not kidding with painting ; she knows how and where. It’s quite usual to read that Madani’s painting is quite ‘cartoonish’. But saying this leads maybe Madani to another place, a more playful context, and then, maybe this falls down to put her aside, whisk her away from the Great Domain of Painting (GDP). Yet, she also projects some animations, but some very low cost sort of stop motion (intended) version. So now let us start with one painting, and let us suppose that Madani, in a way, produces both traumatic and cathartic painted images;  there are clearly some recurrent items, a (sort of) Wittgensteinian family of clichés and obsessions : big babies, shit, sperm, urine, love juice, fluids, penis, phallus, man, anus, stupidity, religion, high wattage light. At least, 12 themes, and maybe more :

Tala Madani, “Shitty Disco”, 2016, huile sur lin, 140 x 112 cm, Pilar Corrias Gallery, London 

Light comes out of arses from some perched human figures. Pretty flabby characters on the dancefloor, with pieces of shit flying around. A nice fairy dancing tale. Madani is originally Iranian (I fancy more to say “Persian”, it’s so poetic), she lived in Tehran until the age of 15, and then, with her mother, moved to Oregon (USA). In interview (here), if she conceeds that her background obviously matters, yet she refuses to consider her depicted characters as typically Persian, saying that these are rather archetypes : men, women, mothers, etc. Yet, one cannot avoid noticing that, very often, if not always, the faces of men are quite ‘ethnically’ typed. But, for instance, and concerning ‘shitty disco’, she asserts that the title fits rather well with contexts such as Brexit or the American elections (she speaks here in 2017). Well OK, I get it that Madani wishes to be more universalist.

As is known, the word ‘shit’ is quite polysemic, from ‘you’re full of shit’ to ‘you look like shit’, through ‘you’re talking shit’; and not to mention ‘piece of shit’, or ‘I gotta pack my shit’… No doubt that a foreigner, fresh from abroad, once linguistically initiated, soon realizes that the word ‘shit’ is overused in everyday language, probably as much as ‘fuck’, by the way. From there, to surimpose in the mental retina of our artist some sort of archaic image (literal and Freudian) of a place on Earth where men are crazy with God, full of shit and religious bullshit, then maybe this explains that. I say ‘maybe’. Or course, there are also, in the USA, some crazy biggots, but not in the same proportion, mind you. In Iran, it’s a sole monolithic discourse which holds things together, and especially people ; a theocracy (theocrazy?), a religious power, yet bicephalous (bicephallus?) one; but, in the last resort, these are the Religious alright who keep hold of lifestyle and customs. Indeed, as in all dictatorships, the discourse is profoundly stupid, retrograd, degrading and illuminated. What’s left of the passage in such a geographical-mental place, in the mind of a teenager, and, by the way, with an artistic becoming ?


Tala Madani, ‘Twins’, 2015, oil on linen, 140.3 x 112.1 x 3.2 cm, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

In interview with the New Yorker (2017, here) Madani reckons : “I probably wouldn’t have become a painter if I hadn’t been the product of emigration.” Hence, for example, above, what do we see here ? Do we have to describe ? It’s always a little bit hard to basically describe what there is to see, and I find that, literal descriptions of paintings, artworks, are often redundant, and hence useless, since the reader is often able to use his own eyes. Once said this, “to see” is also “to interpret”, and the image invites us to do so, and from there, the fact of interpreting does not solely belong to the primary visual cortex. Let’s go! In some unspecified space, but in a shitty frame, a sort of blasphematory image of pa-ma-ternity : a bearded, wearing the usual Madanian underwear, breast-feed in some ejaculotary way a couple of twins, already bearded ! All three look pretty much dumb, as often in Madani’s, and especially the mo-fa-ther, since everything falls aside in puddles. How many metaphors in this painting ? The milk, parasitic with the partriarcal religious discourse, as soon as birth. Hence, in a way there is, with Madani, a sort of intersexuation of her characters. Reading interviews, we understand that she was able to identify herself to some men, when she was a child, leaving home very early with her father, reaching for the market, sharing food, etc. She also say that male figures in her paintings are a bit like self-portraits : “They’re a little like self-portraits,” she explained. Our baseness is “the most human aspect of our being.” “The oversocialized aspect of us is so oppressive,” she said. “If we all engaged with our own animal instincts more, we’d be better off.” (New Yorker). Yep. What is interesting here, is to catch a glimpse of how Madani identifies herself with her own characters. One can assume, with these bearded twins, that they’ve been already contaminated by the food endowed with a double power (organic nutrition and mental surnutrition). But Madani does not have a beef only with religion. She is also the author of a Serie entitled “Shit moms”.

Tala Madani, “Family Portrait”, 2019, huile sur lin, 98,8 x 76,2 cm, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

It’s of a very great violence. Shit mother, in the figurative sense, useless mother, all rotten, incapable ; and mother of shit, literally, a mother made of shit, but still, we love. There are some moments, when we ask ourselves : what is painted here? Children look afraid, and took refuge in their mother’s lap. This is very violent and provocative. And I insist on the adjective, since it’s really something else than trite provocation with which we are used to. And we can think about Paul McCarthy, in the guise of a scatologic ancestor, but, if I’m right, I would not situate his work in the same vicinity. To put it bluntly, I find McCarthy’s work rather kitsch. Next, it seems to me that McCarthy works echo the loneliness of the subject, even if it shows groups — as with his pigs fornicators, his wooden monstrous disneyan creatures, his Santa Claus holding plugs, etc. On the other hand, Madani does not offer some solitudes, but send us back with situations, linked to society and civilisation; blended with neurotic states of such and such entity; something that McCarthy does not proceeed to do at all. And this is the reason why Madani’s work unsettles me, affects me, uncomforts; I don’t know whether to laugh with embarassment or chase away all this out of my sight.

But there is worse :

Tala Madani, ‘Shit Mother I’, 2019, huile sur lin, 203.2 x 203.2 x 2.5 cm, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

What Madani gives us to see, to imagine, is just madly worrying, or just mad simpliciter. But saying ‘this is mad’ wouldn’t be the end of this. Again : what does the paining say ? Underneath high wattaged lights, reminding of ‘shitty disco’, some kind of big babies feast the dead (or alive ?) body of a shitty mother/shitmade. It is gore. What’s the meaning of this (if any)? Manzoni can go back to the kindergarten… A bunch of babies eating their mother, nourishing from her fecal body. Scatoph/agous/philia criss-crossing with anthropophagy. This raises many questions. Notably, this one: How much courage does it take for an artist to show such an It (Groddeck)? Madani assumes that she laughs often while painting, but not everytime, and it’s not a sort of ‘ha ha’ laugh. Let us notice that, once again, the scene takes place in some sort of disco. The light, as ultimate ectoplasms of speech, which, as is known, was made Light. But if the Light-verb comes out from male arses, what’s worth this speech ? It sanctifies shit.

Léon Mychkine