David Najib Kasir. Multiply Bombings / Add Losses. 2016. Encaustic and mixed media on panel. 7 x 11 inches.
My first experience of Fragmented Home & Place, an exhibition of recent work by David Najib Kasir and Fahimeh Vahdant, was a visceral sort of punch to the gut. Donald Trump should see this show, I thought, because, in the words of Vahdat, “Art is a catalyst for change.”
A grouping of mostly small scale works, each made with tenderness, care, and sadness, this powerful exhibition asks the viewer to contemplate war and humanitarian crises. The work fits together like tiles of an ancient mosaic (some missing or crumbling, some still tight and bright). The placement of the work is natural and enhances their visual and contextual impact.
Using imagery of Arab men, women, and children, Kasir successfully fragments the narrative viewers seek as they move from panel to panel, artwork to artwork; mimicking the destruction war wreaks on civilian populations. The viewer must negotiate this fragmentation despite the soft colors, exquisite lines, and beautiful mosaics. The flesh tones and textures of the encaustic equally repulse and connect viewers to each moment. Neither the labor or the pain are immediately evident in the work, but the Kasir acknowledges the the physical and emotional demands of the making. Perhaps, pain and labor contribute quietly to the effectiveness of the work.
Vahdat’s work lives even as it contemplates questions of violence, abuse, and death. Monotypes flash color and images, installations invade space and insist on being present (stand-ins for those who can’t speak for themselves?), and fabric dances over prints of text and female bodies. Indeed, as Vahdat notes, “In my work I seek to create a more fluid boundary between art and life to perhaps influence cultural and personal transformation.” Viewers interact with Vahdat’s art, building a relationships with it, learning and growing from it.
After recent news, I wonder if President Trump or the majority of Americans have the capacity for either empathy or change. As Stokely Carmichael notes in Black Power Mixtape, nonviolent resistance (art) assumes your oppressor has a conscience. But this exhibition affirms that art can change the world. Vahdat says, “I insist at all times on hopeful outcomes and the buoyancy of the human spirit under even the worst conditions.”