The Marie-Laure Fleisch gallery, a contemporary-art exhibiting space located in Rome's historical center and specializing in works on paper, opens its second exhibiting season with a personal show of Ali Kaaf, entitled Eclipse. The young Syrian artist is exhibiting for the first time in Italy. The show features 12 new medium- and large-size works whose techniques include charcoal, graphite, ink, pigments and adhesive tape on paper and the video Ras-Ras.
Ali Kaaf's Middle-eastern origins, as well as the artistic and personal experiences he had in Syria, Beirut and Berlin, blend together and complete each other in the works on paper presented by the Marie-Laure Fleisch gallery for the exhibition Eclipse. The title refers to the conjunction of two planets, one of the rare moments when light and darkness meet and fight. Similarly, the white of paper and the black of drawing are the predominant elements in the work of Ali Kaaf, like two different but complementary worlds. This duality mirrors the movement of attraction and contrast between the female and male universes.
The artist has chosen paper as his main medium - an archaic material whose qualities, such as lightness, transparency, resistance and frailty, allow for limitless freedom of expression. The artist manipulates it, in a working process that involves a constant confrontation with matter, and therefore a search for limitations to question and boundaries to overcome. On his sheets of paper, the artist uses the black of charcoal, graphite, ink and pigments. Through drawing, the artist explores the relationship between figure and space. The black of the object seems to fight with the white of matter, in an attempt at dominating and possessing it. This process of appropriation is coupled with an esthetic vision characterized by a deep sensuality. A guided choice is not possible for the artist - only an unconscious urge that needs to be followed. His esthetic language oscillates between elegance and violence, brutality and poetry.
The large-size figures in his graphite works remind us of invisible doors, half-closed entrances that are only accessible to the most attentive and sensitive observers, to those who are able to contemplate the mystery that lies before them for a sustained period of time. The work's spectator-user is encouraged to ask himself questions without expecting any answers. The artist himself works on a long research and development project, during which he constantly asking himself questions - which is the only key for the door of knowledge.
The video Ras-Ras, created with black-and-white photographs and combustion, takes the human figure as its central theme. The subjects appear against a bright, empty background, immortalized for a moment like living sculptures. The features of their faces have been erased by fire, and are therefore no longer visible to the spectator. Instead of the head (which translates as Ras in Arabic) an empty, torn space emerges - poetic and grotesque at the same time, reflecting the recurring dualism in the work of Ali Kaaf. Does the artist represent the spectator and put him before the denial, and thus the censoring, of free thought, or does he inquire into its possibilities?
Born in Algeria in 1977, Ali Kaaf graduated from the Fine Arts Academy of Beirut University, Lebanon. From 2000 to 2005 he attended Marwan and Rebecca Horn's classes at the Berlin Fine Arts Academy (UdK). In 2004 he was awarded the DAAD prize for young foreign artists. In November 2009, Ali Kaaf has showed 12 works at the group exhibition Taswir – Pictorial Mappings of Islam and Modernity at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. He lives and works in Berlin.