Venue: Shoman Foundation- Amman
SEMIOLOGY IN Rafa Nasiri's Art
Shakir Hassan al-Sa'eed
Talking about the philosophy behind the works exhibited in his one-man show (1984) Rafa Nasiri stated that he "departed from the conventional geometric frame of the painting, whether oblong, square or rhombus, to a constructional composition where part of the composition runs over the frame". Thus, he was referring to the importance of passing from the outer to the inner space of the painting and vice versa. In other words, he was trying to break through the dividing line between the two spaces of the composition: inner and outer space. Some well-known and young Iraqi artists tried that too. Such cultural situation is related to the research into the meaning of universal being or that which considers man a mere phenomenon. Hence the artist's observation of life, environment and human relations could not be confined to the paintings inner world but rather goes beyond it. It is as if the artist is interested in 'living" or 'enlivening" the sense of the search for "circumferential truth within the photographic world… the two-dimensional world (length x width)… But he realized the risk involved in this horizontal "adjustment" which would not be acquired by the outer world; the world beyond the frame except under terms dictated by its inner being its world within the frame".
As far as analytical criticism is concerned such theoretical statement emphasizes the importance of dealing with the painting's composition under the dimensional classification. It aims to convince the artist to relate to what he is not related to. Or rather to be present before that 'mythical rite' to possess what is possible and not what is there. Such delicate definition of the self's position is what the artist has prepared for in his research. He turned his realistic colors embroidered with fantasy, just as he used symbols such as birds or stone masses to stand for this new journey of his. But we soon realize that it is merely an attempt to transcend the visible value of color or to transcend the visible being to its intellectual sense. Here the visible stands for the natural and the intellectual is the cultural.
These symbols then will extract for us the artistic terms in his aesthetic awareness which is closely related to the painting. But they will emerge for us beyond the bounds of this awareness. Hence, through our aesthetic awareness we choose the hidden courses of this 'trap' prepared by a sensitive artist who can express his passionate feeling with few color touches or scribbles. Thus when we follow up his 'terms' trying to discover the relation between the original and the developing shape of the painting we remain concerned with his search for fixed original truths. For an oblong or square painting promises now to play its decisive inspirational role and it transcend its conventional shape. I believe that the artist's wish to go back to the source – the environment, which was realized in the last years by using a sign or semiotic technique is still wavering to break into the world of the 'possible'. But he only goes back to it by the terms of the realistic world and not the one that is there. Here the wish for the possible reaches for the realistic but it would only be realized by being in the real one if the artist had chosen to be there.
Hence, here lies the 'riddle' in Rafa' al-Nasiri's tiresome research. He dreams in advance that he turns things upside down. Thus his art has turned into a sort of estrangement. But in the course of the semiotic research he deals with, he also believes in the 'accumulative method'; which is a scientific method in art while he explores the 'structural method'. There is an obvious affinity between semiology and structuralism but he faces a problematic situation that forces him as a sensitive artist, to refrain from dealing with the oil painting, with the potentials of texture and color unity, not as he deals with graphics by phasing in the work or dividing it. This is what a creative artist is all about and this is the impression his interest in color fantasia leaves. He wishes to glorify the act by defining its identity. But while he is going about it he leaves out the identity because in it he moves on from its being a poetic event teeming with the possible – the dreamy and the fictional to a mythical event dreamt about. Thus the essence of his statement (2) in the final analysis presents a 'content' that is a way behind its 'form' without losing its characteristic. The content looks as if it is from the 'other' world rather than from the world of 'I'.
I happened to meet an artist of a different caliber. He described his relation with the world as if he was questioning it with his fingertips like any potter though he was not one. He talked about clay as if he lived the sense of his being made of clay. His words were engraved on my mind and I realized that what we are really after is not the outer paint but rather what is seen through it. In this way an artist permeates his art so that we no longer refer to him in isolation of his work, we would say for instance Picasso meaning his works.
Al-Nasiri's journey with colors, shapes and styles reveals a lot about his deep-rooted relation with reality. If we analysed his works of art whatever paint he uses would seem like a luxury and it is indeed so. But how could we discern asceticism amid richness unless by going through the experience of Abu Bakr al-Shibli (3) when he wanted to join the Sufis.
From Al-Nasiri's early works we could deduce why he excluded affected styles and kept on modified ones. Of course it is craftsmanship and not its natural expression that is the most definitive of his vision in this respect. If we look into consideration the mental 'interrogative' side in his dealing with the Arabic letter (or turning the heard features into seen ones as in his 1990s works) as well as his abbreviation trend in his early graphic works, we would surely discover that space and horizon remain merely vessels for achieving his influencing factors. The painting's expansion to the space around it is also a 'spatial' expression. His effects came in his recent exhibitions as an expression and content for this 'letter trend' in his art. Thus the nature of the dialogue the viewer holds with al-Nasiri's world reveals man's way of pretending to be yearning to his mother whereas his real longing maybe to the father's love.
Rafa' Al-Nasiri once told me: "As children, we used to go in the evenings to the town's outskirts to meet the shepherd who could come back without goats". On another accasion, he told me about "the reflections of light a pebble made when thrown on the water surface." (4) Those were old recollections of course but he recalled them clearly. Is it because they are ordinary images any child or boy might have seen or because they have actually contributed towards refining his artistic taste? Perhaps, but such recalled moments can throw light on all his reactions when he meets nature.
Regardless of the interpretations it suggests, his semiotic statement is symbolic in the full sense of the word. In the introduction entitled "A Journey Through the Horizons" critic May Mudhaffar talked about "the perceptible idea and the carefully studied visual research." (5) Here the semiotic tendency stood for the relation between the town's life and the desert's life. The town here is the 'ego' and the desert is the 'Id'. Thus the painting could he described as the "ego" as it receives the "Id" and restores to the town dweller his sense of reassurance just like the return to one's mother.
To sum up, analysing any of his painting we come across an extreme delicateness when he combines semiotic phenomenon such as, the crossing out, the cloud, the arch, the rough surface, the holes and the distant horizons. Meanwhile we see a flat geometric shape. How far are these from those symbols related to his semiotic statement or related to the content? Is the artist using terms which aim to get out of their allusive frame towards their linguistic level? This is what we cannot guess yet for only future will reveal that. But what we are sure of is that the artist has gone a long way in his modern experience.
Translated by May Muzaffer