A disabused post modern discourse?
Is not reality a dirty tale of dominance, full of selfish sound & fury? And is not so-called high or universal art merely an expression of the dominant (obviously) base desires of the dominant class of the dominant continent?
Take that beautiful art deco villa: just the spoiled son of a Belgian 19th C industrial tycoon throwing his inherited money at a lavish art deco villa, sumptuously decorated with the most expensive materials. And that oriental flavour? Well, Mr Tycoon Senior did not only exploit European natural and human resources but also tramped about in Cairo, and indulged in an exotic fascination for the Orient.
Well, at least that sumptuous villa is now being recycled as a “Center of art and dialogue between the cultures of the East and the West”. And all that splendor now houses a politically aware exhibit about “Rituals, wigs, scarves, make-up and so many other constraints determining the life of women for Centuries, between concealment, unveiling and revealing”.
The imposed (!) modesty of the Virgin? The imposed (!) modesty of the veiled Arabic woman? Or the imposed (?) immodesty of Eve, of sensually made up pin ups. Sigh - the inescapable politics of sexual dominance and male projections about how women should dress : never clothed enough (when modesty is required) – never naked enough (when sexual desires have to be aroused). Those naked women on Renaissance paintings: mere porn for rich patrons .
Yah, obviously, whether you’re Darwinian, or Freudian, or Marxist – you have learned that all art can be deconstructed to become a dirty tale of selfish genes, repressed (or expressed? umm...) sexuality, capitalist dominance. We’re all just selfish individuals confined to our contingent provincial conditions. Da. There.
Redeemed by ‘ordinary poetics’
But however true the above disabused discourse may be - yes, Tiziano’s Venus of Orbino is a pin-up , for those who want to see her like that – those who have an “'oculus impudicus' qui ravale l’émotion artistique à la concupiscence” (Jean Claude Bologne ). So, however distressingly true the above may be, ‘disinterested’ poetry and a universal lyrical sensitivity do exist (yes, non-sexually inspired enchantment with the poetic and aesthetic sensitivity of Tizian’s Venus is possible ) – or, at least, there are still enough of us believing in it.
And therefore, wandering about that art deco villa, I can be enchanted by the space and the rhythms of the rooms, by the pure sensuousness of the materials. And I’m moved, deeply moved by the
magic worked by Maimouna Guerresi : the poignancy and stillness of those white, spectral , hieratic figures ... Levitating? Striding?
What do they remind me of? Definitely not of submissiveness. Of the oriental mystery of veiled women, then? Yes perhaps, but not as a matter of exotics, but rather like the mystery and stillness of a meditating Madonna - the “quiet spirituality of a "sacra conversatione”, done by Bellini for instance, whose Madonnas have that same aura of non-sentimental but deeply moving, contemplative concentration. “ quies - a spiritual reconciliation, idyllic or ascetic retreat into solitude”. Yes, I’m reminded of Bellini, whose pictures achieve that rare intuitive unity of poetry & metaphorical & religious meaning, not requiring analytical erudition to understand their significance.
And that levitating figure? The mystical ecstasy of a Saint? Bernini’s baroque imagination? Saint Theresa?
And those striding figures, with the elegantly dignified folds of those draperies, is there not a visual resonance with the
elongated sinuosity of the gothic international style ...
And so I wonder & ponder ... exulting in intuitive associations. Irrelevant projections? Merely revealing my own hybrid set of accidental cultural references, my own pathetic longing for some universal beauty and meaning? Well, not entirely irrelevant ..., not merely strictly personal intuitions it seems. Later on, when doing some web research on Maïmouna Guerresi, I’m delighted to find these echoes in her own artistic statement :
“As with many ancient icons, my figures in hieratic poses recall images of the Virgin, but also celebrate contemporary cultures and religions that have kept their traditions alive. This gives rise to a new and hybrid iconography [...] My work is part of a [...] transcultural expression’, where the elements of formal beauty combine with ancient African symbolic forms. I present a hybrid reality, consisting of eastern and western cultural references, in which ordinary poetics reach beyond what is represented to unite with a universal condition of beauty, mysticism and sensitivity. This kind of intuition is common to all peoples of the world” .
Post Scriptum, 6 months later
(But I am having doubts now about these "spectral, hieratical figures" - it's their "faceless-ness" which makes me feel uneasy. Because, what's an individual without the expressiveness of her/his face? What's an individual without eyes?)