There have been hundreds of journalists murdered in the modern era. What makes the Kashoggi murder any more significant? In the experiment that is our corporate democracy, this must now be the first time that a leader of our country has publicly shrugged his shoulders and admitted that commerce trumps human rights… a verb that is now personified into a being. Trump stated that the 2017 Saudi Arms Deal was more important than speaking out against human rights: “After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States.“ – “That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
For my project, “The Khashoggi Story”, I am creating an interactive installation, part of a group show I am organizing/curating at Waterfall Arts for the summer of 2019 for their year-long theme of Altered Environments. The show is called “Gallery Closed” and will feature three other artists, Geoff Hargadon, Brian Reeves, and Paula Lalala whose artwork supplants/transforms the hosting entity. My piece is a series of walls or rooms that appear to close off access to Waterfall Arts’ Clifford Gallery. On each wall will hang a stretched canvas that can be opened like a door and which covers an opening behind it large enough for a person to pass through.
The experience of the viewer passing through the openings behind the paintings is intended to mimic the moment when the journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered his country’s embassy in Turkey, never to leave alive. With respect to Maine Art Journal’s theme of “Sanctuary” this installation explores how an institutional structure or building can betray our expectations and collective understanding of its purpose and function.
Additionally I will hang a series of gouache drawings in the corridor gallery which will extend the experience achieved in the closed-off gallery.
I chose to represent the colleagues, compatriots and fellow dissidents who Khashoggi tried to speak out about and help, some of whom are currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia by MBS (Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, as part of his brutal crackdown on critical voices. I view the Khashoggi murder as an act involving two players, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, one commits the crime and the other fails to act against this crime. Thus I have created two canvases for two walls inside the Clifford Gallery. The dynamics that animate this relationship between these two players is driven by commerce, pure and simple. The gouache drawings are based on the kind of imagery that comes up when one does an Internet search using the key words “corporate achievement”. Added to this I looked at insignias, emblems and flags within both country’s various governmental departments, agencies and branches, and all together began to create imagery that was mostly symmetrical, which often incorporates pyramids, stars, laurels and birds. A simple online search for information regarding the kind of Saudi nationals that Khashoggi was trying to alert the world about landed me on a Wikipedia page listing 25 Saudi dissidents. For me this would be where Khashoggi left off and where I could begin, reading and learning about a culture whose resources we hunger after, yet whose society we hardly understand.
Each drawing then is titled to represent a Saudi dissident listed on that Wikipedia page. Rather than creating illustrations that might depict the specifics of each individual’s story I chose to build generic compositions based on all the core elements mentioned above and also filter in some of my own ongoing motifs such as tornados, arteries, strata, surveillance cameras and feathers. Common throughout many of the tableaux are the two prime power brokers depicted as emblematic twitter birds, posturing and preening within their sheltered heraldic realms, while meanwhile the world futilely looks toward them for answers to the calculated and gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi and ongoing harassment of dissident voices.
Featured thumbnail image: Kenny Cole “The Khashoggi Story: Wikipedia 25-Samar Badawi” ink, gouache on paper 22” x 30” 2018