Chronicling of Mountains
As Walid Siti has chosen to completely, and literally, deconstruct the mountains that he has returned to as a real and imagined “home” throughout his work, perhaps 2010 is precisely the right time in the trajectory of his practice for this to be viewed in a larger exhibition of new and older works.
This development has come after a progression of paintings and installations that reconstitute the form of the mountain, used by Siti as a central point from which mediations on peoples, imaginations, traditions, histories, and a host of experiences can be derived. The mountain as a constant is informed by Siti’s connection to the place where he was born and raised, Dohuk. A city situated in the Northern Kurdish region of Iraq, it is surrounded by mountains on three sides.
While the mountains that characterize much of the Kurdish region have played a great role in Kurdish identity and mythology, particularly in the quest for independence (the well-known “the mountains are our only friends,” comes to mind), Siti takes what could be an immovable, exalted reference, using it as a point of inquiry and accessible engagement through the familiar. What occurs in these paintings and installations is a way of questioning the strength of not only objects, but the formations of multiple ideas, events, and structures. An acknowledgement of power is kept, while at the same time these formations are stripped, poked at, reformed by threads, and simply taken apart in the end.
Throughout his work, Siti has seemed to chronicle the place of these mountains and other similarly rigid monuments in the context of events taking place in his native Iraq. While living in exile for much of his adult life in London, this work seemed to ground and find a place for questioning a state of overwhelming war, brutality, and suppression. The darkness in the mood and palette of his earlier work in fact gives way to increasing color and a porous quality in the subjects he returns to again and again, until, in recent years, Siti has actually lifted his work out of paper and into the realm of installation. In Constellation (Installation, 2009), Siti reforms relationships into airy threads that, while tied together retain a kind of distance from the almost ghostlike formation at its center.
This seems to signal not only a progression in his work, but perhaps also a new moment in history, where old regimes have collapsed and new ties, events, and power structures are being sown and reconstituted.
It is within the context of Siti’s past work, and the new realities of his subject matter, that the actual breaking of the mountain and the parceling of its edifices signals a significant change –not only in the sacredness of the structure in Siti’s work, but in its announcement, and deep acknowledgement, of how Kurdistan itself is being carved out and repackaged in potentially irrevocable ways. It may also signal the final dismantling of the myth of collective identity –an identity that may have existed during times of duress and threat, but one that now ceases to exist as a monolithic centerpiece of consciousness.
The phenomenon that Siti circumnavigates is not a new one –breaking from older notions of preservation to develop and monetize land and individuals is a global constant. Yet the power of a piece like Handle With Care! (installation, 2006), is its placement within a series of work that mirrors the fashioning of history and the near vulgarity of its outcomes. These stones, now identically cut, wrapped, and stamped, each produce their own set of questions. What is the price of finally having ownership –of a stone, of a territory’s worth of stones? What will result of its multitude? Does the fact that it is cut, something we can gather, force us to want, in a way that we would have never imagined had they stayed a single entity –something too large to hold, but not too large to control?
These are questions that of course have no answers just as Siti’s forms had no answers when questioning the weight and why of war, or even the light suffocation of relationships (in contrast). Here, Siti provides the viewer with a piece from the structure that has long held his questions, this time moving from the realm of pure aesthetic questioning to a physical, tactile experience. It may be a gesture, a break from the remembrance of exile and nostalgia into formed reality, or the dispersal of questions compelled by new vantage points, shapes, and compositions.