Artists: Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, Natasja Kensmil
In the fall of 2021, the work of artists Sadik Kwaish Alfraji and Natasja Kensmil will be shown in parallel solo exhibitions: 'In Search of Lost Baghdad' by Alfraji and 'A Poison Tree' by Kensmil. Kensmil has been on display in the Netherlands before, but not yet with a cross-section of her entire oeuvre. Alfraji has participated in several international projects, but did not have a solo exhibition in the Netherlands after 2010. He draws his memories and associations of Iraq in an expressive style, reflecting also on his own migration. Kensmil paints contemporary "history paintings" with (loaded) motifs that form condensed visual narratives.
'Kensmil and Kwaish Alfraji both often show human figures in a way that reveals their weakness, loneliness and vulnerability, as well as their unpleasant and dark sides. Both show bluntly what otherwise remains mostly veiled and concealed. Art should be more than a pretty picture' (FD Personal).
Graphic work by Alfraji will be on display at Museum Flehite from October 2 through November 21. The title of this exhibition is "Baghdad - Amersfoort. It involves more than 100 etchings, woodcuts, drawings and paintings from the 1980s that deal, among other things, with the war between Iraq and Iran, but also with themes such as love and freedom.
Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, portrait photo: B&W. Natasja Kensmil, portrait photo: Paul Andriesse
Sadik Kwaish Alfraji (1960)
Sadik Kwaish Alfraji has lived in Amersfoort since the 1990s. His work zooms in on both his own migration history and that of his family and looks back at Baghdad, where he is from. His forms of expression include animations, videos, installations, paintings, drawings, sculptures and photography. For him, memories are a powerful engine for reflection on his personal history. "For me, art begins with an idea, an image, a memory, a social or political event, a normal everyday scene or an emotion," the artist said.
Triptych migration history
On display at Kunsthal KAdE are video works and works on paper from mainly the last five years. Alfraji is showing for the first time the works from the second part of a triptych about the migration history of his family and himself: Books of Passage. The second chapter, entitled Those Houses Behind the Army Canal, consists of several parts all about the Al Thawrah neighborhood in Baghdad where his father moved to and where Sadik grew up: an animated film, two large paintings, a series of painted etchings, a series of small painted street scenes and a film about the neighborhood. The first part, The River That Was in the South, was on view at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 2020 and dealt with the family's migration from southern Iraq to Baghdad. The yet-to-be-developed third section is about Alfraji's own migration to the Netherlands.
Hadiqat al Umma
In the main hall of the art hall is the monumental, nine-part video work Once Upon A Time, Hadiqat Al Umma central. The nine screens feature fragments of artwork in a Baghdad park, along with a childhood photograph of the artist, around which associative visual elements - vehicles of memory - swirl.
'All those layers lie on top of each other. Together they form an experience that is simultaneously hyper-personal and recognizable.' (Volkskrant)
Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, Ali's Boat (video still), 2014, animated video, 6'37", courtesy the artist
Other series created by the artist since his stay in the Netherlands also incorporate memories of his country and family. For example, the work Ali's Boat based on a letter Alfraji received from his nephew during a visit to Baghdad. Ali had drawn a boat and added, "I wish my letter takes me to you. The artist dreamed of the same boat with which he could escape and created the multidisciplinary work Ali's Boat, on universal desires.
Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, Embroilment, 1984, etching & Sadik Kwaish Alfraji, The Last Choice, 1984, woodcut, courtesy the artist
Museum Flehite is showing the etchings and drawings Alfraji made in Iraq in the 1980s, in which he exposes the violent conflict with neighboring Iran. The artist's figurative style was too confrontational to show at the time, in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Alfraji's work has been featured in the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia, in Iraq's pavilion in the 2017 Venice Biennale, in an exhibition on Iraq at the Moma PS1 and at Videobrasil in Sao Paulo, among others. A catalog in English will accompany the exhibition.
Natasja Kensmil, Jenny and Karl (Marx), 2009, oil on linen, 150 x 150 cm, courtesy andriesse ~ eyck gallery
What a beautiful combination of two extraordinary artists. First introduction to both and ... immediately hit the mark!' (Visitor)
Natacha Kensmil (1973)
This is the first time that such an extensive cross-section of Natasja Kensmil's oeuvre is being shown in the Netherlands. Previous presentations mainly zoomed in on individual series. The stories Kensmil tells with great detail and on large canvases hark back to collective and her personal history. Contradictions such as power and powerlessness, the earthly and the spiritual, and violence and sacrifice run like a red line through these narratives.
The title of the exhibition, "A Poison Tree," refers to a poem by English poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827). In the poem, suppressed feelings of anger grow into a deep-seated hatred that takes the form of a tree on which a beautiful, but poisonous, apple grows.
Early works to recent series
Kunsthal KAdE features work by Kensmil in its upstairs galleries, from the earliest works in the late 1990s to recent series. One of those series is Martyrs Mirror, a series of silkscreen prints about the Anabaptists, a radical Christian movement. The work is based on a book of the same title from the seventeenth century by Thieleman van Braght, about martyrdom within this religious group. Another series is Sleeping Beauty for which Kensmil drew on Victorian death portraits of children. She paints them in their internalized tranquility. In a catalog from the South African gallery Stevenson, Kensmil says:
'I believe the soul lives on in the portraits of dead people. The spirits of children wander; they try to escape their failed lives and escape their loneliness. I explore the domain of the living that overlaps with the spirits, the underworld...'
Natasja Kensmil, Nicholas II and Alexandra, 2008, oil on linen, 260 x 140 cm, courtesy andriesse ~ eyck gallery
In over twenty years, Natasja Kensmil has built up a body of work in which she presents history as an inseparable part of the present. Motifs - often based on a concrete historical or art-historical source - are superimposed or loom up from thick layers of paint. Ostensibly in black and white, but rather in blue-black or green-black with endless shades of gray. What looks like monochrome is full of detail and nuance.
Natasja Kensmil is the winner of the Johannes Vermeer Prize 2021. She is represented by andriesse ~ eyck galerie, has been featured in several museum exhibitions in the Netherlands and had a retrospective at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin in 2013. The exhibition at Kunsthal KAdE will be accompanied by an oeuvre book published by Alauda Publications and Kunsthal KAdE.
Natasja Kensmil, Schwarzkopf, 1998, oil on canvas, 186 x 145 cm, BECHT COLLECTION
The exhibitions are curated by Robbert Roos, director of Kunsthal KAdE and Lara Stolwerk, project officer at Kunsthal KAdE, in collaboration with the artists.