Nelida Nassar 06.16.2014
Artist, Carlo Massoud new installation at Carwan gallery is entitled “Wooden Dolls.” This is a series of sixty individual, hollow black and white objects of four different styles that are perfectly aligned into fifteen symmetrical rows. Their surface of high finished lacquer shimmers and gleams in black with the exception of the four white ones that are also finished from inside in gold leaf.
The installation interweaves several powerful narratives about the feminine and masculine facets in the Middle East. At first glance the shapes of these highly seductive objects emerge as if consecutive lipstick’ strips. On further examination, the seductive image is brushed off and the pieces suggest belligerent, antagonistic, polished, pointing bullets. Walking around the installation, yet a third reading becomes visible whereby small opening in the wooden objects of various shapes takes form. Are they Russian dolls or some other doll forms or molds? Do they represent Middle Eastern garments? Why dolls at all?
The wooden dolls named “Maya, Zeina, Racha and Yara” wear each one of the four
Islamic veil styles the burqa, the hijab, the niqab and the al-Amira. Their faces unravel simultaneously to clarify some of the artist’s intentions. The issue of the veil in contemporary societies and its meaning is brought to the foreground with subtlety. Humor and subversion to new function, material and scale is adopted as these empty garments pieces appear to be hiding places for precious and treasured items. Do these women despite being covered remain seductive? Or have the imposed masculine rules altered their personalities? The installation is very original while representational of the time because the issue of the veil has recently preoccupied the east and the west equally, provoking numerous debates. Thus, the confrontation of the feminine and masculine narratives remains at the installation’s core.
At its most fundamental level, the installation is an effective combination of concept, vision and mastery of medium (the ability to get the point across). It is also bold, uncompromisingly honest, unselfconscious, ambitious, enlightening, challenging, and a feast for the senses. It doesn’t necessarily convey all these qualities for everyone, but at the very least it keeps you coming back for more… and never ever bore.
Some viewers may be turned on by the nature of the materials, a psychological issue or some part of the narrative. Some may have greater intensities of experience than others. What makes the installation good on a grander scale is how extraordinary and profound the components – passion, frame of reference, freshness, and intellectual content as well as magic – of the experience are. Maalouf taps into his own idiosyncrasies and conveys them to others. The installation will undeniably assume a new relevance to each generation. It will connect to the past and feed the future. It has a simple and rigorous beauty that commands your gaze and thoughts whenever you look at it.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces molded by time, certain twilights and certain paces – all these are trying to tell us something, or have told us something we should not have missed, or are about to tell us something; that imminence of a revelation that is not produced is, perhaps, the aesthetic reality.” While art has become, in the experimental 20th and 21st centuries, impossible to define – critics learned long ago to stop being prescriptive, perhaps a little too well – Borges’s tentative manifesto makes a good starting point – as long as we don’t succumb to mystical mush. Good installation art looks stunningly right and, in retrospect, obvious, or inevitable – yet it’s also continually surprising. It is a powerful paradox. How can someone have possibly made this? How in the world could it not have been made? Massoud’s installation alludes to all the above and more.
Carwan Gallery – Gefinor Center, Beirut – Lebanon
June 12 – July 31, 2014 from 11.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.