In Diana Al-Hadid’s third show, Falcon’s Fortress, with the Marianne Boesky Gallery, she pays homage to the inventive nature of renowned ancient Islamic mystic-thinkers, explores historicity and temporality through medium and color, and provides a totemic symbol for hope and protection, perhaps inspired by the future of her native country, Syria, amid the backdrop of her adopted American landscape.
For Al-Hadid, an Aleppo-born, Brooklyn-based artist, the intersection of religion and science is said to be a key source of inspiration. This is particularly evident in the way in which she utilizes ideas garnered from the past works of two ancient Islamic innovators, Al-Jazari and Matrakci Nasuh, as a springboard for her own designs in this show. In her various sculptural pieces, she reconstructs a clock invention mentioned in the 13th century writings of Al-Jazari that uses a candle (located at the top of the structures and shown as having been burned down to the last remnants of wick and wax) and small, metallic beads to showcase the passage of time in relation to the largest astronomical event in (very) near history — the solar eclipse. In her expansive wall panels, she documents similar landscapes in large that Matrakci Nasuh documented via his adventures in the 1500s throughout the Ottoman Empire in miniature.
While Al-Hadid may draw influences from inventive mystics of the past, she is a magician in her own right. She makes heavy materials appear light, light materials appear heavy and is able to manipulate the colors she uses to somehow appear simultaneously vibrant and subdued. Perhaps most immediately striking in Al-Hadid’s works is their texture and the complexity inherent in their materiality — everything is as equally imitative as it is authentic: Mylar is the used in lieu of canvas and is serrated by crayon, charcoal, and acrylics; Gypsum mimics wax and is used in conjunction with fiberglass, brass, concrete, steel, wood, plaster, lead, and bronze. Al-Hadid shows mastery in the way she bends these materials to her will and yet lets them remain, in some sense, autonomous.
As for her palette, her rich umbers play delicately with her softs whites and seafoam greens. These tones are more strongly mimicked in her structural pieces as bright jades, creams, and deeper bronzes, many of which are a part of and draw attention to the falcon motif from which the collection derives its name and which is consciously curated throughout.
This falcon imagery weaves its way through the collection just as the bird in life might weave its way through the sky. Its presence is sometimes striking — caught mid-shriek, perhaps warding away evil with its outstretched wings. At times, it is pleasantly haunting, like a kindly spirit or a guardian angel, nearly hidden among lace-like patterns, resting on branches and vines. One cannot help but wonder, considering the current global context of Al-Hadid’s native Aleppo, Syria, if this image is presented as a beacon of hope for a people with a rich past and a terror-ridden present.
Political musings aside, it is impossible to not be enchanted by Falcon’s Fortress. During my visit, everyone in the gallery seemed to be completely engaged with the work, either speaking with a gallery representative or eagerly discussing among themselves in pairs or groups. The usual phenomenon of a gallery as a sort of hallowed black hole from which no sound escapes was thoroughly broken, although the reverence and awe of ye olde arte worlde remained. All around in the show, there is something new in form or figure or in meaning to be discovered: If you look closely enough, you might find a branch, or a ray of sun, a candle wick, a spirit, or maybe even a bit of magic in the form of an ancient truth presented to a new audience.
Diana Al-Hadid: Falcon’s Fortress is on at Marianne Boesky Gallery at 509 West 24th St. from 16 September – 21 October 2017.