Entries from December 2011 ↓

The Great Game

Nobody knows just when a board game titled “Safe Travel through Afghanistan” was invented. Most likely, it was some time in the 60s or 70s, when it was safe to travel in Afghanistan.  Not earlier, given the presence of the Ariana Boeing 727 in the center of the image. Nevertheless, here it is, reproduced in the form of a carpet, probably made in the last few years.

Perhaps it was some mad spirit of ironic optimism that caused this to be transformed into a furry picture?  Or some lost-in-translation lack of understanding of the contemporary implications of the original graphic? Whatever, it certainly confuses one’s understanding of the emblematic use of the map of Afghanistan in all its other different political contexts. No matter what was its makers’ intent, iconophilia here shares it with you (wherever you may be) in our well-intentioned and peaceful tradition of greetings for the festive season…

(and thanks to Rob Little for the photograph).

shopping for authenticity: the global reach of dot-painting

Move over NY subway grafitti style! Here comes dot-painting…  And if you want to bulk-order your boomerangs, you can go here. These treasures (and the background research) is thanks to Bill Kruse, in Djakarta airport.

new street art in Kandahar ups the ante…

Some months ago I wrote about the growing phenomenon of “street art” at the KAF base in Kandahar, in south-eastern Afghanistan. There was even a response to the incarceration of Ai Weiwei here and there on the concrete blast walls.  Now we find the Australian official war artist Ben Quilty getting in on the act. His variation on the Australian coat of arms is a radical challenge to iconographic analysis. While the Australian War Memorial has mentioned his mural in passing in last week’s pre-publicity, we are yet to see them publish a photograph of the work, or to offer an account of the meaning of its symbolism. The inclusion of skulls and serpents (locally symbolising the infidel crusader) may pose a challenge to officialdom. This may yet prove to be the most radical “war art” yet. We look forward to the official account. Here’s what they say thus far… (This photograph was published in Air Force: the official newspaper of the Royal Australian Air Force, (Vol 53, No 22, Nov 24, 2001, p.17).

And this is the first version of the image: the one above has (for better or worse) been made specific to the KAF context:

Ben Quilty, Landcruiser, 2007, Chinese Ink and Gouache on Aquari paper, 188 x 282cm (from the QUT Ben Quilty Interpretative Guide)

This text by Don Walker accompanies the image: “It’s an old trick. Take a universal, publicly owned snatch of melody, fanfare, phrase or image and pervert it. Ben Quilty has used the Australian coat of arms, an image so official and hoary it’s almost invisible, and mounted it on a mesa piled with skulls. The shield-bearers are presented as road-kill, the kangaroo muzzle flattened by a double bogie. Between them now is a cairn of skulls knitted by worms and lies. The crest is a convict shackle, looking as though it was cut from a kerosene tin, just to make it clear that not all the bones belonged to Indigenous Australians. Like most people, Ben Quilty defies caricature. A bogan who chose to pursue a degree in Aboriginal culture. A petrolhead who buys his art supplies at Bunnings, yet carries tiny notebooks full of the most exquisite pen-and-ink sketches of Venice done in his recent youth. Close in, where Quilty works, his paintings look like a bad paving job. Step back twenty feet and he’s caught the whole sorry tale, a country built by the survivors of pogroms, massacres and land clearances elsewhere, who found a haven here on land cleared by massacres of our own.”

The image and text above was found here. We’re waiting to hear the AWM’s version…


yet another Boetti effect?

Our translation of the Arabic texts above does not substantiate the claim made in the subtext on this page. The words on the atlas are the names of countries and oceans.  The text above the map on the left wall reads: “What do my enemies do to me, I, [with] my paradise and my orchard…” And above the map on the left the text appears to read: “The Crusaders’ occupation [and the] Muslim’s initiatives”

The former quote would seem to be a version of a text attributed to Ibn Taymiyyah: “What can my enemies do to me? My paradise and garden are in my chest, and do not leave me. My imprisonment is seclusion with Allah, and my death is martyrdom, and my expulsion is tourism.” While it is said that the thoughts of Ibn Taymiyyah have been influential on contemporary fundamentalist thought in Islam, such as Wahhabism and Salafism, the murals above could hardly be seen as targeting instructions…

And Boetti? Clearly, this Mappa has nothing to do with Alighiero Boetti, but it’s a provocative thought, given the claims of contemporary writers to his influence on other aspects of Afghan culture. Relax, we won’t be claiming a connection to al-Qaeda. On the other hand, it is of interest to see how atlas images circulate within Afghanistan.

(This page is from John F. Burns and Ian Fisher (Photographs by Tyler Hicks) Histories are Mirrors: The Path of Conflict through Afghanistan and Iraq. Umbrage Editions, New York.)