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A pastiche of styles in heritage, human rights


The Daily Star 
  By Sophia Tillie  Jan 31, 2012
King and Queen AshtarimusBEIRUT: Arthur K. is a contemporary Lebanese-Armenian self-made painter. Born in 1945, he is a doctor by profession, as well as a poet and an essayist.

In addition to working in multiple fields, in the last 20 years of his artistic career Arthur K. has gone by many names: Arthur, Nicolian, Nakoul and more recently Arthur K., which stands for Harout Kapriel Nicolian.

In his latest exhibition at the Hamazkayin Gallery, “Heritage and Human Rights,” the artist employs acrylic and print on canvas to form a series of collages that the introductory material states “express the artist’s position and struggle against the greed and difficulties that produce human injustice and give commentary to his political views.” Each canvas has the words “human rights” embossed across it, and each carries a different assemblage of script, old photos, newspaper and magazine cutouts.

“I employ [the] letters of the Armenian alphabet to express my message,” Arthur K. says. “Due to the Armenian massacre there is something of human rights in our alphabet, [that is] if there are human rights.”

The dominant colors are black red, blue and gold. Classical images stand juxtaposed with modern icons of famous and familiar faces such as such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Giorgio de Chirico, Freud, Parajanov, and Brecht. Violent and romantic images harmonize into an ascetically pleasing bricolage whose intertextuality is obscure. This disturbs the observer trying to weave the disparate parts into a cohesive narrative that seems hauntingly absent.

One canvas has the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti placed centrally, arms outstretched. “Pavarotti is a pillar of human rights because he is happy,” he explained with a total sincerity that rendered all irony and sarcasm obsolete.

Intermingled with and interrupting these series of collages are a couple of canvases entitled “Golden Houses,” painted with mixed media on canvas, as well as a number of naive paintings of Phoenician icons.

“Golden Houses” depict old, red roofed Lebanese houses, checkered with brown deterioration and golden wisps that rise like smoke or thin branches into blossoming flames of golds, reds and blues. The windows are black and hollowed and the houses stand crowded together. “The houses are about memory. This exhibition is about lost heritage too.”

A painting entitled “King and Queen Ashtarimus” depicts simplistic icons of a male and female, and the use of acrylic and mixed media on canvas gives it an appearance of being on painted wood. Their naive faces emerge from a tapestry of colored squares and swirls. Soft blues are scarred by red paint that drips from mouth and skull.

Arthur K. has exhibited his works internationally through Noah’s Ark Art Gallery in Beirut, New York, Sao Paulo, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and recently in the 12th International Art Exhibition in Beijing, China.

He says his greatest influence is the philosophy of the author Zekharia Sitchin, who wrote about the birth of civilization in the areas where the people of Sumer, Mari, Urartu and Phoenicia lived, and about a missing 12th planet in the sky. Sitchin was an Azerbaijani-born American author (1920-2010), whose books propose an explanation for human origins involving ancient astronauts.

Sitchin attributes the creation of ancient Sumerian culture to the Anunnaki, which he postulates was a race of extraterrestrials from a planet beyond Neptune called Nibiru. He believed this hypothetical planet of Nibiru to be in an elongated, elliptical orbit in the Earth’s own solar system, asserting that Sumerian mythology reflects this view.

Arthur K.’s early works depict rocket-esque structures with the concept of Mesopotamian, Phoenician and Egyptian figurines. “If you look at Baalbek, the Pyramids and other ancient temples you can see how much more evolved they were. Even ... in England today you don’t know how Stonehenge was built.”

A dark image of Picasso with black hollow eyes stares out from one canvas. Beneath it the word “Dolly” is inscribed across an image of a semi-naked Indian man at work. The artist has embossed the word “pollution” into Picasso’s brain “to show that the consciousness of geniuses are deformed today.”

“Human Rights and Heritage” is an interesting commentary on the devolution of our species from ancient times to the present. The artist’s work is a pastiche of styles from three different epochs: naive icons, expressionism and postmodernist bricolage. The bricolage collages, by their very nature, present a blank parody of their own self-reflexivity and textual references and render the political message of human rights null and void.

Rather than undermine the artist’s political views, however, this serves to emphasize his view of our current degradation, juxtaposed with the more idealized epochs of our lost heritage.

“Heritage and Human Rights” is at the Hamazkayin Gallery in Bourj Hammoud’s Shaghzoyan Center until Feb. 6. For more information, call 01-241-262.