Everything is True
11/12 - 12/31/2016
Kai Matsumiya presents the debut exhibition of Hadi Fallahpisheh (b. 1987), a recent graduate of the Bard MFA program who currently lives and works in New York. His most recent series explores the world of the fictional character “Hadji,” a term originally used to describe a Muslim person completing the pilgrimage—the Hajj—to Mecca, but is now increasingly used as a derogatory means of denouncing Middle Easterners and North Africans, one which likely originated from US military personnel. Fallahpisheh intersects these social constructions with his personal biography. The similarly sounding name of the artist, “Hadi” is replaced with the character “Hadji,” using a novel admixture of performance and photographic processes within the darkroom, and demonstrating how all that appears as patently true may simply not.
In a similar light, Albert Camus, a devoted socialist philosopher, made explicit the problematic condition of the “pieds-noirs” (black-feet), which at once referenced the armed French-colonialists in Algeria, and later came to be an umbrella term for European-Algerians migrating to France, before or during and after the French-Algerian war, respectively. Whether the country was to be an “Algerian Algeria” or “French Algeria” wreaked havoc on what it meant to be French or Algerian in either place. Camus—frustrated that he could not fully assimilate in France as he was denounced by both the right and much of the left—shouted with existential angst: “EVERYTHING IS TRUE/NOTHING IS TRUE” in response to the condition of the “pieds-noirs.” Reflecting on the term, “Hadji,” Fallahpisheh says:
…this term has a similar pronunciation and spelling to my name, and provides an opportunity to test different roles—both as author and as a fictional character. Although I am not personally interested in Hadji’s history, I feel that I can address the popularity of the narrative in the work of Middle Eastern artists through this character, and the way we are expected to position ourselves. I bring the word “expectations” in on purpose, because as a Middle Eastern artist in a Western environment I am often expected to have the position of a story-teller who goes to the past and finds interesting and untold stories, and uses them as material. Though what I am more interested in is using the whole idea of Middle Easternness not as subject, but as material.
The fictional storyteller Hadji employs jokes and photography in presenting the viewer with existential questions and absurd claims. The work confronts the crude expectations of a Middle Eastern artist adjusting to the arbitrary social conditions he inhabits. Originally inspired by “mockumentary” and “parafiction” in relation to photography today, Fallahpisheh mixes historical culture with pop, images with text, creating various levels of interpretation, reading, and misreading. Elaborate bad jokes which move beyond any pitch or workable resolution, are scrawled on the photographs, such as “Hadji TimeAli: One day Hadji asked his friend: “What time is it?” His friend said: “it’s 2:45 pm” Hadji got angry and said, “What the f*? from this morning I’ve asked ten different people the same question and everyone has said something different.”
Fallahpisheh’s visual process begins with the incorporation of jpegs of prayer rugs sourced from the internet and assembled together into six pieces as to make a larger tableau. The camera itself is never used. The photographic paper is taped onto small sections in which a life-size prayer rug is revealed. In the same physical position of someone—the Hadji—praying, the artist kneels and “sprays” the photographic paper with flashlights, crayons, and colored markers. It is a world in which the artistic is anti-artistic, and the secular and religious share a tendentious relationship within its tolerations.
Shielded from the dangerous light of the outside world, Fallahpisheh implores us to reflect on the dissonance and absurdity of Middle Easternness— a state in which abstraction, figuration, innocence, violence, and quiescence cross one another from the origins of the darkroom. The world is layered with indexical marks blanketing cloudy prayer rugs in largely indecipherable texts and perhaps actualizes Arthur Koestler’s famous quote where “in the dark, words count double”. The presence and gaze of the camera are refused. These photographs, in turn, reach a final destination point where they are displayed vertically on the brightly lit gallery wall, thereby reversing the relationships that are associated with the kneeling performance in the darkroom. Prayer beads, in turn, are attached to the tableau of the photographs teasing visitors to rub them. The world of Hadji is one in which everything is true and nothing is true.