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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

It's coming up to the 1st anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2021. The media have reported that Russia is planning to send tens of thousands of young troops to Eastern Ukraine as they launch yet another major offensive.

The idea that Ukraine should trade land for peace is both ignorant and offensive. Any territorial compromises would weaken the invaded and embolden the invaders. There is no possible peace scenario in which Ukrainians can share their country with those who have tortured and murdered civilians weaponising rape and ditching their bodies into mass graves, bombed hospitals and kidnapped and deported children to Russia to be re-educated and adopted. This is a colonial war. To accept and formalise Russian occupation would lead to the eradication of Ukrainian culture and to the realization of Putin's imperialist vision. And that is the opposite of peace.

#ukraine #russianinvasion #war #peace #imperialism #blog #beyondthecanvasblog


Ukrainian Tragedy #2, 2022

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"I do not pose my sitters. Before painting, when I talk to the person, they unconsciously assume their most characteristic pose, which in a way involves all their character and social standing – what the world has done to them and their retaliation." - Alice Neel (1900-1984)

Neel's view that the subjects of her portraits were retaliating against the world's nastiness is extraordinary. Then again, there is very little about her that wasn't. A lifelong communist since the McCarthyism days, a wildly free-spirited woman who swapped New York's residential Greenwich Village for Spanish Harlem, Neel spent her life painting unapologetic and empathic portraits of American society. She painted both the rich and the underprivileged, her friends and her neighbours, with a definite penchant for the marginalised, the mad and the destitute. What also very much set Neel apart from the rest, is her unflinching commitment to realist figuration at a time when minimalism and abstract expressionism were all but dominating the art scene.

It's easy to be fascinated by Neel's portraits for their intensity and ability to capture the psychology of the sitter. I was mostly struck by how she painted women, without any idealisation or sentimentality. Poor mothers, an unusually large number of heavily pregnant women, nursing women, victims of domestic violence. Her female nudes couldn't be farther from traditional canons. Their bodies are ordinary, relatable, they are no objects of desire depicted to please. Ah the female gaze.

#aliceneel #figurativeart #femaleartist #americanartist #portraits #artblog #beyondthecanvasblog

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There are exhibitions that touch you somewhere deep inside. Far from merely delighting you visually, they grab you by the hand and they take you somewhere, they teach you something, they plant a new, curious seed inside of you. And they make you want to learn more so you can really understand and appreciate, rather than just look and admire. These are the shows that stay with you for a long time after you've seen them, and you keep revisiting them in your head, time and time again.

All of the above was true for me in the case of Soheila Sokhanvari's beautifully curated show at the The Curve, on the ground floor of the Barbican. Iran-born, Britain-based Sokhanvari reveals the untold stories of Iran's pre-revolutionary feminist icons - poets, writers, dancers, singers, actresses - bringing them back from erasure and returning them to the spotlight the belong in. The portraits are exquisite and intricate. Framed in colourful, hypnotising patterns oozing poignant symbolisms, the women appear defiant, bold, magnetic, vulnerable, mysterious, inspiring, forcefully life-affirming despite the sadness of their fate. These talented trailblazers all fought against the patriarchy in their own way, all were silenced by the totalitarian theocratic regime.

If you follow the artist's Instagram account, she will very generously tell you more about each of these women, bringing you even closer to them and helping you to understand why they should be celebrated. My favourite? The portrait of movie superstar Forouzan, the first image in this post, who after the 1979 revolution was banned from acting. I love how she's leaning forward, with such tremendous audacity and self-assuredness.

#soheilasokhanvari #rebelrebel #feministicons #iran #iranianwomen #femaleartist #portraits #figurativepainting #barbican #london #artblog #blog #beyondthecanvasblog

© Soheila Sokhanvari

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