Critics’ Picks


Lida Abdul

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation | Paris
39, bd de La Tour-Maubourg
January 22–March 30, 2014

Lida Abdul’s new installation Time, Love and the Workings of Anti-Love, 2013, is given pride of place in this solo exhibition curated by Isabel Carlos, which premiered in Lisbon before heading to Paris. Over five hundred small black-and-white photo-booth-type portraits are aligned in a minimal presentation to fit the length of two long walls. Each one has been cut out by hand, with all the irregularity and humanity that that entails; the multicolored wooden street camera that produced them over the course of many years is placed in the center of the room. The artist was able to purchase these precious archival documents and the apparatus in Kabul from the photographer himself. The photos allow her to reveal and preserve the traces of individual faces of Afghan men, women, and children. Presented as a voice-over, a chilling, poetic text she wrote evokes the war-torn circumstances in which these photographs were taken.

The US-based Abdul is famous for her commitment to making work in and about Afghanistan, her country of origin. A selection of her short video and 16-mm film work further complements the picture she paints of her birth nation, a picture that is deliberately quite different from the repeated violent clichés available in mass media. And yet Abdul also acknowledges the reality of a place that has lived through thirty-five years of conflict; the landscapes she captures are often those of ruins. A three-day performative act, during which she paints an entire destroyed palace in the suburbs of Kabul in white, is relayed via the ironically titled video White House, 2005. Her cinematic use of sound, silence, slow-motion footage, and blurred effects all contribute to the ambiguity that permeates her work. The fantasy piece she calls In Transit, 2008, records boys playing with a bullet-ridden Russian airplane to which they attach ropes while attempting to seal the bullet holes with cotton wool. “But it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fly,” they tell her, “as long as you think you are controlling it.”