No Angels Just Profiles
A Swimmer in the Ocean…
paintings by Syed Hosain
presented by under
1927 Hennepin #27 Minneapolis
August 18-September 19
By Appointment: contact email@example.com
In the early 90′s, my basement apartment in Uptown was many things; a crash pad, love nest and a mouse’s breeding ground. But if I knew you really well, I’d take you under the stairs to the “chamber”. It resembled a cave almost more than a room and its brick arches were made with concrete, rough mortar and 19th century rebar. The lighting was bare bulb. The chamber was also my first art studio.
Recently artist-promoter Matthew Bakkom has moved in and has transformed the apartment into ‘under’, an indy art space that features regular exhibitions, ideas and events. So far, he displays art that he has a particular relationship with. Currently, it’s the oil paintings of Syed Hosain, “A Swimmer in the Ocean…“, August 18-September 19th.
As you descend the stairs, staring at you is the painting tilted “a Swimmer in the Ocean”. A portrait of a young woman in a white robe with the barrel of a AK-47 at her side. Painted in the style of french realism, the ‘Swimmer’ evokes painterly line and socialism of Corbet and the romantic drapery of Delacroix. Corbet broke with the earlier Romantics and said that “I cannot paint an angel because I have never seen one”. The artist preferring to paint from his own revolutionary experience. Rest assured , the Pakistani born Syed Hosain paints no angels in this show but he comes close with ‘Swimmer”. Confrontationally, the woman in ‘Swimmer ‘ imbues a complex gaze. It is at one moment defiant, sad, sleepy but angry. She is painted against a black ground, her white robe floats against the black and gathers around her face. The kalshinokov rests on her shoulder. Her eyes remind you of the Mona Lisa but her tense persona offers none of Mona’s wry smile.
Sayed Hosain Swimmer
Promoter Bakkom reveals Syed modeled “Swimmer” on the actress Scarlet Johannsen. This flushes out the complicated root of Hosain’s painting and his dilemma. How does a muslim immigrant in America portray Islamic militants, internationally wanted men and his family members in a contemporary manner? His ‘Johannsen solution’ turns the context inside out and forces our intellect to confront the paintings as hollywood dramas. This adds in americanizing the portraits of Osama Bin Laden (OBL) and Yasser Arafat and others within the show. It is almost like Hosain is aligning his paintings with the pop culture reproductions that we’ve come accustomed to seeing in the daily war reports. But while, I moved through this untitled show and many faces seem familiar, I felt like an vengeful and ignorant american. I was ready to condemn these individuals but I didn’t even know most of them by name.
The distracting element of this exhibit is virtually every other portrait is executed in a different painterly style. Hosain’s talent has consumed him and his curator. It reveals a sporadic genius but also an uncohesive artistic vision. I believe to make this work with one (or at the most two) painterly styles would embrace and strengthen the larger implications of the artist’s dilemma and his world view. Nevertheless, Hosain’s work is still powerful. What I loved about this show is how it made me feel, like I was a young G.I. walking in the Tora Bora caves but the only remnant of OBL is the painting on the wall. He’s eluded us again.
by Mark Wojahn
Wojahn is a arts writer for the Visual Art Critics Union of Minnesota (VACUM). For more info on VACUM go to www.mnartists.org/vacum