Islam Zaher… Oddity -- Existence’s Blaring Question

Islam Zaher… Oddity -- Existence’s Blaring Question

Written by the Moroccan writer and critic:  Farid Zahi

There are two ways of going beyond figuration (that is, beyond both the illustrative and the figurative): either toward abstract form or toward the Figure. Cézanne gave a simple name to this way of the Figure: sensation. The Figure is the sensible form related to sensation; it acts immediately upon the nervous system, which is of the flesh, whereas abstract form is addressed to the head, and acts through the intermediary of the brain, which is closer to the bone. (…) Sensation is the opposite of the facile and the ready-made, the cliché, but also of the sensational, the spontaneous… It is Being-in-the World…

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, Seuil, Paris, 2002, p. 39

When a contemporary artist finds inspiration in Goya and Cézanne and does not give in to the temptation of artistic constructions (installation), be it digital or post-modern, he surely, in order to formulate his mesmeric contemporaneity, finds himself transforming the artwork into an entire world, inducing thought and reflection; with it, the painting turns into an internal artistic construction, rich with its own content, attracting the participation of the eye and the sense and launching questions into the horizon. Islam Zaher is not a fan of Contemporary Art and Post-Modernism. He is not impressed by the techniques of art practiced by many of his young and even younger contemporaries: he rather takes his full time in his creative life, his art production as well as art shows continue to be scarce. He is more like a shaman or a recluse in his solitude, he transcends the visible as much as he melts in it, as if with that he seizes life and the ordinary, as well as his existential questions in a crystalized manner, or in a form of a sculpted, ribbed diamond. This Nietzscheist perspectivism cannot be available to an artist unless he lives in the thought of the painting, in this questioning and disruptive thought that is highly reflected in his artistic plastic touches, in the fragmentation of the visible, the body and the face, and in the dialectic of concealment and manifestation, movement and stillness, silence and noise.

Painting by artist Islam Zaher

Forming Paradoxes With the Senses


In this show, Islam Zaher propels us into “narratives” that he forms with the tension of smudges, vivid colors, and intersecting lines. As much as the brush smudges appear sharp, harsh, and kinetic as much as the “subject” (face or body) is formed in a layered manner, which shows the features as much as obscures it. Thus, our eyes search for meaning without fully grabbing it, because while forming, it changes the details of the “story” into melodious tones that draw the eye and bring it into a state of trance. It is a state of infection that spreads from the painting directly to the eye, as if it were an unlimited stream of liquid fragments, flowing with a roaring murmur. Islam builds his world by deconstructing the visible, fragmenting it, and then rebuilding it. He does not distort it in the manner of Bacon or Expressionism, but rather investigates its paradoxes and forms a density for it that pushes it to the verge of obliteration, that is, an almost gelatinous mass, without appearing so. As he pushes his new expressionism to its extreme limits and elicits from Cézanne and Fauvism their areas of color and division of space, we see him inventing for himself a new, personal plastic rhythm that is characterized by tension, intensity, and rigor to the point of obsession.

In the artist’s objects, faces, and body postures, there is something that resembles a story, that is incomplete or ambiguous. It is true that the artist targets mundane and existential paradoxes, between the illusion of happiness and contemplating life, in tragic snaps that oscillate between loneliness and multiplicity, between melting into the self and emerging from its cocoon; however, these same paradoxes dissolve, intertwine, and inhabit each other, becoming impossible to distinguish and separate. Thus, the artist constructs the story to abandon it and leave it suspended and open to interpretation. It is like a stuttering or confusing story, almost stubborn for words and meanings, remaining trapped in perception and imagination, wandering and having fun in its vastness. Or to say, it is a story woven by many different hands, overlapping and intertwining in its elements and images, to the point that its density almost turns into sediments that needs our archaeological eyes to explore its depths. What embodies this is the artist’s reliance on the density of the medium, its thickness, its flow, its topography, its intersections, and its crushing mobility, so that this “rude” roughness becomes an entrance to the density of meaning and the intermingling of paradoxes, in color and space... Thus, the artist creates his own signature and unique imprint...

Painting by artist Islam Zaher

The artist manipulates his objects and faces, whether they stem from the mundane or from the imagination of myth. Their features are obscured or almost so, its limbs become undefined and a gelatinous extension of its odd body. They are just vague protrusions of its cocooned mass, rocking in the rhythm of sharp smudges. Thus, oddity becomes a characteristic of the being, an imprint of the sunken face in the hybridity of its features. There is no identity here for the visual, the body is an entity that resembles the roughness of the earth, the face ceases to be a field for determining identity, transforming into a geography in which the earth’s topography is imprinted in all its transformations. Thus, the body, like the face, resembles strange wrinkles of an entity carried on the turbulence of their cores.


Visions From Beyond the Horizon


Islam Zaher chooses to look at the here and now, as well as the interiors of the self and the labyrinths of thought by recovering antiques and the visual memory. Didn't Heidegger say that the here and now is an infinite openness to a history and a memory that contains in the present all that corresponds to it, outside the dialectic of the known temporal sequence? This present time is an open gateway that absorbs from memory what brings it close to it without any temporal distance. The ancient past is closer to us than our jugular vein, and there is no rupture separating it from our present time. As he freely looks here and there in history as well as in the spaces of artistic, mythological, and historical memory, he recovers these traces to revive them, not with the aim of resurrecting them as originals, but with the aim of interpreting, transforming, modifying and appropriating them in the present moment. In this, what I call the thought of the image or the thinking image appears; one that immerses itself in the present and the mundane only to the extent that makes it a pretext and a gateway, which tints the visible with countless and incalculable spiral references.

From the Venus of Lauselle with her curvatures, and Judith, as she restores freedom to her city by beheading Holofernes, and the face of the mummy, to Cézanne, Klimt, Marino Marini, and the mythical face of cinema’s giant, John Coffey, our artist does not cease to immerse himself in the myths that constitute another history near us and far from us, that is reproduced in his imagination and tempts his immersion in his historical and spatial cosmopolitanism. He weaves his personal style into discourse, openness, and visual accountability, and builds his visions through openness to the effects imprinted on him and his own inclinations, so that the fragmentary stories that he disseminates into his world are both objective and subjective, from here and there, from the charm of the eye and the question of the mind. This discourse gives Islam Zaher’s works a universal flavor and forcibly includes him in the fluidity of global art, not only by his intention, but also by the addition that he seeks to crystallize, in an intensely personal manner, with sweeping freedom, and with a creative vision that derives its strength from its captivating uniqueness.

Painting by artist Islam Zaher

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