Elizabeth Ashburn & Abdul Karim Rahimi: ‘What Comes After War?’ Afghanistan, Australia and Iraq — 18 August to 3 September 2005
Elizabeth Ashburn & Abdul Karim Rahimi: ‘What Comes After War?’ Afghanistan, Australia and Iraq.
Curator Jo Holder
18 August to 3 September 2005
The rich colours and intricate compositions of traditional miniature painting are an unlikely form of war documentation in the age of embedded journalism, selective briefings and non-stop cable television.
A. Karim Rahimi is a master of Afghani miniature painting, now resident of Sydney, and Elizabeth Ashburn is a Sydney avant-garde artist who studied miniature painting under Rahimi. Ashburn and Rahimi are interested in art’s role in defining social values. More particularly, because of Australia’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan – in invasion, occupation and reconstruction – they assert that the fates of these countries are now part of our lives. Their images question the human and cultural impact of the twenty-first century’s first imperial wars, seeking to return meaning to places of devastation and trauma.
The Afghan war is widening, with growing anxiety that an Iraq-style conflict is developing in the run-up to Afghanistan’s parliamentary and provincial elections on 18 September. In Iraq, current argument over the drafting of a constitution reflects the unravelling of the delicate balance of power between Sunni and Shia. Observers decry a loss of tolerance and diversity in the Middle East after more than a decade of crisis and invasions based on lies and misunderstandings.
Elizabeth Ashburn – Iraqi Man (Abu Ghraib prison), 2005
Elizabeth Ashburn – Iraqi Woman (Latyfiya, burning oil tanker), 2005
Elizabeth Ashburn – Crowd outside Christian Monastery (Baghdad), 2005
Abdul Karim Rahimi- Our Home, 2002, 17 x 17 cm
Abdul Karim Rahimi – My Family, 2002, 23 x 28 cm
Abdul Karim Rahimi – Help, 2004, 22 x 16 cm
Outrage at the wilful destruction of world heritage and religious buildings, and the looting of museums during the invasion of Iraq, led Elizabeth Ashburn to study aspects of Middle East culture. (The Geneva Convention ordinarily protects cultural property in armed conflict.) Taking advantage of A. Karim Rahimi’s course in miniature painting (at College of Fine Arts, University of NSW), she learnt a little of the techniques. Her miniature paintings of war and occupation contrast this heritage with the ugly realities of everyday life in Iraq.
Every major conflict brings with it photographs that set the stage for how the conflict is judged and remembered. As Susan Sontag argues, the Western memory museum is now mostly a visual one. (‘Regarding the Torture of Others’, New York Times, 23 May 2004.) In reviewing images of the war that the United States launched pre-emptively in Iraq in 2003, Ashburn seeks universal scenes, not propagandistic or triumphal moments. The solemn renderings of her small vignettes oppose the depravity of depicting carnage as if a fireworks carnival.
Elizabeth Ashburn is an artist and teacher who also writes and curates on art and politics. She is an Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Newcastle.
Abdul Karim Rahimi
Rahimi had a distinguished academic and artistic career in Afghanistan. He began his training in Herat, a town famous for the vivid and humanised nature of its miniature painting, and then completed degrees at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kabul. He was Associate Professor at Kabul University (for 14 years until 1992) where he wrote several books on Afghani miniature art. In 1990 Rahimi was awarded the title ‘Distinguished Cultural Figure of the Republic of Afghanistan’.
During the time of the Taliban, artists in Afghanistan could not include depictions of living beings — animals or people. Rahimi and family lived in Pakistan for several years before migrating to Australia in 1998. Rahimi now lives in Rooty Hill, Sydney, and his works incorporate images of his new country and its contradictions, landscape and suburban life, into the rich colour and design of miniature art. He has held over forty-five group and solo exhibitions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Australia. After learning English, Rahimi completed a Masters in Art at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW. He now teaches an adult education course in miniature painting (at COFA, UNSW) and is artist in residence for the Rajput: Sons of Kings exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW and was a finalist in the Archibald Prize. Rahimi hopes that his unique training and experience of displacement and migration can add to a truly multicultural perspective for Australia.