Refer to Source: Ali Baba Aurang / Barbara Campbell — 27 May to 18 June 2011

Exhibition dates: 27 May to 18 June 2011
Opening Remarks by Dr Mary Roberts on Friday 27 May at 6pm for 6.30pm

Refer to Source connects two artists who use age-old stories to reflect on contemporary geo-politics. Ali Baba Aurang is Afghanistan’s finest advocate of siamask or ‘practice in black’ calligraphy and Barbara Campbell is a well-regarded Sydney-based performance artist. Ali Baba Aurang refers to the celebrated mystical poems of Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, also known as Mowlana) and Barbara Campbell refers to The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, whose narrator, Scheherazade, tells a story each night to her husband, the despotic King Shahriyar, to stall her own execution and save the lives of the other young women of the kingdom.

In her durational performance, 1001 nights cast, Barbara Campbell cast a story into the ether every night for 1001 nights (from 21 June 2005 to 17 March 2008.) Each story was written during the day by a pool of 243 writers scattered across the globe. With a limit of 1001 words, each writer responded to a writing prompt chosen from daily newspaper accounts of events in the Middle East, rendered in watercolour and posted on the net. At sunset, the artist webcast the new story to unseen audiences in unknown locations. In relation to the literary source of 1001 nights cast, the watercolour works on exhibition are from the preface series made in the months leading up to her first sunset performance as a daily ritual.

Aurang’s calligraphy in Persian language (or Dari in Afghanistan) strives to present the intensity, rhythm and soul of each verse carefully selected from the rubayāt and ghazal of the Divan and the books of the Masnavi. Some works appear as a mass of dark writing, layering darkness and blackness over and over but on close inspection the layers of text reveal themselves, like a secret language, while other works are deceptively transparent, suspending the words as precious jewels. Curator and artist Khadim Ali describes this experience as one where, 'You feel the darkness and the pain but you do not exactly want to read the pain and intensity of it all'.

For all its abstractions, the land each artist re-presents does have borders and each ‘re-frame’ of the story comes with an urgent imperative. Ali Baba Aurang's hidden reference is to cultural suppression of art by the Taliban and the suppression of Hazara people, a history related as a loss of loved ones and homeland. In Barbara Campbell’s storytelling journey, the narrator is in anguish at the sudden death of her lover and seeks meaning in life itself, metaphorically diarising the devastation caused by the West’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The opening eighteen lines of Rumi’s Masnavi begin:

Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,

How it sings of separation ...

Barbara Campbell -



ali baba_flawlessimaging_web.jpg ab_forgetting_12web.jpg
Ali Baba Aurang, Untitled 7, 2011. Collage, ink, silver leaf on stained ground, 52.5 x 38 cm Ali Baba Aurang, Untitled 3, 2011. Ink on paper, 37 x 56 cm Ali Baba Aurang, Untitled 12, 2011. ink on paper, 90.5 x 58.5 cm  



Barbara Campbell, prompt XLIII from 1001 nights cast (preface series), 2005, watercolour on Sennelier paper, 10.5 x 24.5 cm (paper size). Collection of Barbara Campbell. Photo: Barbara Campbell