Azad Nanakeli: Highlighted Memory

 Azad Nanakeli.  Highlighted Memory (3) , 2017. 70 x 90 cm. Mixed media, painting on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and XVA Gallery. 

Azad Nanakeli. Highlighted Memory (3), 2017. 70 x 90 cm. Mixed media, painting on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and XVA Gallery. 

Is he flying or falling? The suspended figure in this painting is deliberately ambiguous. He could be in the final throes of death and tumbling to the ground with his light extinguished or, he could be floating upwards, transported by an invisible force into a portal beyond. In fact, the piece suggests both. The figure hangs at the top of the painting above a large, circular spotlight, which could easily represent a kind of space-ship landing from a scene in a sci-fi movie or a more spiritual signifier of an entrance to another world.

The piece has no specific title, it just takes the name of the exhibition: Highlighted Memory, currently running at XVA Gallery in Dubai, and within it many stories have been weaved.

Azad Nanakeli is fascinated in the very nature of memory itself. Each individual is a product of all our memories but we are never able to bring them back into the tangible present moment and so, like the realm of the subconscious, they only exist in our minds. Yet there is also the pull of collective memory, where entire populations have been displaced due to violence and war – something Nanakeli can particularly relate to.

Born in Erbil, which is today part of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in Iraq and currently living in Florence, Italy, Azad has focused his visual pattern on a multi-layered artistic discourse. He talks of childhood memories of lying on rooftops and counting not stars in the night sky but bullets leaving flaming trails. After leaving in 1975, he returned 20 years later to witness his compatriots and his nation crumbling around him. He also speaks of being “an inbetween; neither in one place or another” and having family dispersed across the world. Yet his paintings are not violent – they are layers and layers of mixed media, devoid of colour, where light and shadow do the talking.

 Azad Nanakeli.  The Other World (4) , 2017. Mixed media, acrylic on canvas 50 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist and XVA Gallery. 

Azad Nanakeli. The Other World (4), 2017. Mixed media, acrylic on canvas 50 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist and XVA Gallery. 

In many, a singular man in military dress appears. Perhaps he is a soldier or perhaps, a family member. Maybe he is a representation of the artist himself. In any case, an explanation is not necessary, what we need to know is that this man is our protagonist and it is through him that we should explore the many narratives of this body of work and our own relationship with reality and memory.

“I lost my identity, so when I talk about memory it is not something that belongs in reality, it is something that belongs to me,” he said.

  Azad Nanakeli.   The Other World (9) , 2017. Mixed media, acrylic on canvas 50 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist and XVA Gallery.

Azad Nanakeli. The Other World (9), 2017. Mixed media, acrylic on canvas 50 x 70 cm. Courtesy of the artist and XVA Gallery.

What is clear from these paintings, is that Nanakeli has avoided all direct reference to social and political upheaval – and it is only apparent in the photographic series that is included of a destroyed fort in Erbil – however, he is also attempting to encompass a paradox: we can never escape our personal history, but at the same time, as it slips further into memory, we are never able to grasp it either.

  • Azad Nanakeli: Highlighted Memory. November 13, 2017 – January 9, 2018. XVA Gallery, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Dubai.