In the very early 2000s while I was struggling with my own identity as an artist I met a man who deeply touched my soul. My struggles were based on the fact that most of my work up until that point had been directly autobiographical – a process that was largely cathartic but that had propelled me to a new place of healing where I no longer needed to so deeply examine my individual experience. In this healing space, I became largely haunted by the disconnection of human beings from each other in the world, separated by divergent politics and ideologies with no readily accessible platform for conscious dialogue and debate with each other under the auspices of leadership, administration and the media. I was longing for emotional connection with my peers in other countries, convinced that the majority of them felt the same.
I met Ayad Alkadhi through a gallery we both showed our work at and learned he was originally from Iraq. His paintings at the time were large textural articulations with Arabic markings revealing an ancient poetic past that the artist still longed for beneath his home country’s explosive contemporary identity. We bonded over our common hunger for expression and I spent a few enjoyable afternoons in his small apartment that doubled as a studio while we discussed our global dynamics over bran muffins and tea.
Over the course of the next decade, I watched with glee as his career exploded and took him back to New York City where he remains today, perpetually evolving his creative process. He continues to create amazingly poignant work in a world where the constant flux of political, economic and social change continues to inspire his profoundly personal yet universal paintings.
His latest series is called In Vitro and is explained as such in the artist’s own words:
“This series deals with issues related to the process of societal reconstruction and the extreme political, economic, and social change that occurs after great upheavals such as revolution, invasion or war.
I reference Iraq, having been born there, but actually include the entire Middle East because of the extreme changes that continue to erupt in that part of the world on a daily basis.
The end of conflict can foster a period of reconstruction but that does not necessarily include a social and political rebirth. Reconstruction can have its share of failures and errors. The institutions that are then built upon their graves can be very different from the ideals that so many have sacrificed themselves for.
This series depicts both, the hope and promise of a cleansed future and the realty of dealing with the soiled aftermath of the past. This series is about reconstruction.”
I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Ayad recently and interviewed him about his career and his perspective today.
When I first met you, you were just starting your art career in America and doing swimmingly well. What eventually brought you back to New York and tell me a little bit about your career since last we met?
I always knew that I would eventually come back to NYC. I feel I belong to this city. It is a Mecca for the arts in the United States.
What has changed for you since I saw you last in so far as the ideas you were exploring through your artwork?
The core of ideas explored via my art remain the same. I am still focusing on the human condition under extreme political and social circumstances. The Middle East remains to be a hot topic and the events there over the last few years supply a non-stop flow of human stories. What is changing is the creative approach towards expressing these stories. I am less concerned with the literal communication of ideas or the narratives than I used to be. It used to be about communicating thoughts, now I lean towards communicating emotions.
How has living in the United States changed your perspective and your work?
Drastically! I have been in the states since 2001. I went to grad school here. I witnessed the world change after 9/11. I also experienced being an Iraqi living in the US during the US invasion of Iraq. All of this, helped shape the narrative and content of my work.
What are your current feelings about our relationship with the Middle East and your roots?
If by “our”, you mean the American people, then I would say you remain open hearted regardless of the tunnel vision information that the news media supplies regarding the Middle East.
What concepts are your currently exploring in your work?
Currently, I am exploring the concept of societal reconstruction and the effect on a culture after a major upheaval such as war, revolution or invasion.
What are the responsibilities of an artist in today’s world?
Art should help initiate a debate and start a dialogue. Today’s art must reflect contemporary thinking and feeling. I am aware that future generations will look back at today’s art and associate it with the times, events and stories that inspired it. Therefore, as an artist, I feel responsible to tell stories that are worth looking back to.
What do you most wish to impart conceptually with your work?
I wish to relay the human story by taking the focus of major political headlines and redirect it toward the human narrative. A political headline may catch our eye but it’s the stories of other human beings that connect us together.
How have you grown as an artist in the past five years and what have you learned?
The narrative remains to be very important to me although I am less controlling of the creative process than I used to be. Now, I let the story and the creative process go hand in hand rather than the story dictating the visual outcome.
What is next for you in your work and what projects are you currently involved in?
I intend to continue working on the “In Vitro” series for now. There are so many facets of that story that I wish to explore.
What is your connection to your birth home today?
I do not have any direct contact with anyone in Iraq. My immediate family has long since left Baghdad. Most of my extended family is also out of Iraq. That said, moving away from Iraq, in many ways, brought me closer to it, especially in my artistic expression.
In your life and work, what is most important to you philosophy wise? How do you live in a way that expresses these concepts?
I try to allow myself to be content with who I am today in both personal and professional capacities. Society puts so many restrictions on us by brainwashing us into believing that there is black and white of right and wrong. The truth is it’s all shades of gray and to be happy, we have to have compassion for ourselves.
Article Written by Kimberly Nichols
Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel King Neptune’s Journey and an art work titled The Fool. She has recently embarked on a journey of study in shamanic and medicine lore and wisdom under a series of respected teachers. Follow her daily beat poetry on Twitter @LITGFOA or her arts and literature blog.