By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
And while I'm on the topic of drop-dead-beautiful shows, I need to mention Halim Alkarim: The Witness Archive, at Robischon Gallery. The work on view had so much power that I involuntarily gasped when I walked into the place. I've been aware of Alkarim for several years; before this show, however, I thought of him not as a photographer, but rather as an artist who uses abstract forms to lay out ethnographic conceptual installations that refer to his native Iraq. These photos also have Iraqi content, but they otherwise seem completely disconnected from his earlier pieces, almost as though an entirely different artist had done them.
Alkarim has faced his share of political adversity related to his life in Iraq. His father was a critic of the Saddam Hussein regime, and his family suffered for it. During the first Gulf War, Alkarim himself resisted serving in the military by hiding out in the desert for several years. But despite these difficulties, he had a lifelong interest in art and studied at the Baghdad Academy of the Fine Arts and later at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, in Amsterdam. He now lives permanently in Colorado.
Even on close examination, it's not clear that the lambda prints on aluminum that make up The Witness Archive are even photographs; in many ways, they look more like animation drawings. There are a few reasons for this. First, Alkarim puts the models in elaborate special-effects makeup, including latex masks. Secondly, he shoots them through a fabric scrim, which further alters their appearance. And finally, he retouches the resulting images using computer programs.
One of the first things viewers will notice is how all these efforts are about the heightened attention Alkarim directs toward the eyes of the sitters. This has to do with the content with which he wishes to imbue the photos. Thinking about the role of the veil in Islamic culture, Alkarim noticed that while it obscured parts of women's faces, it also made their eyes more important. And his latex masks and retouched eyes do the same thing. Anxiety and a sense of knowing are being conveyed by the wide-eyed expressions on the faces of his models.
Robischon can always be counted on to present great shows, and this one surely ranks among the best in memory.