Ayyam Gallery Beirut presents 'You’ll Never Thrill Me Because You’ll Never Kill Me', an exhibition by Iraqi artist Athier, who explores symbols of nationhood, displacement and conflict in his recent body of work.
Athier’s artistic practice has often focused on Iraq and the diasporic relationship he has with his native country. Within his vibrant and semi-abstract canvases, the artist layers Islamic geometry with organic figurative forms, which split to reveal a liminal area seemingly beyond the picture plane.
In his recent work Athier focuses on what he considers to be an addiction to conflict in the Arab world even in those not actively involved in conflict. He identifies this ‘addiction’ in the constant desire to either discuss death and destruction, or absorb images and footage of this. Athier sees this not just in the behaviour of other members of the Arab diaspora, but in his own; his personal preoccupation reflects both his desire to feel a connection with the region, and to ease the guilt felt at not participating in any conflicts after relocating to Europe before the Gulf war.
Works from the series 'The Eagle' (2012) stem from the current uncertainty gripping the Arab world and continue the artist’s continuing fixation with the ‘eagle of Saladin’. A pervasive symbol of Arab nationalism relating to Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Athier depicts this eagle neither as egg or bird, but in an amoebic phase. He sees a duality in the eagle symbol: plastered disingenuously across currency and on the Iraqi passport, it represents a lie, but the eagle is also simply a living creature, subject to the cycle of birth and death like all other creatures.
With his series of large-scale screenprints, 'Destroy a Lie' (2012), Athier considers the destruction of false symbols and questions how it is possible to remove that which, though ingrained, is not tangible. Meanwhile in triptych 'Thrill Me' (2012), Athier chronicles a dream sequence through a series of writhing abstracted forms.
In 'Every Hunter can be Hunted' (2012), Athier combines ancient and modern symbolism, merging a portrait of Gilgamesh - the Iraqi King and hunter whose reign is dated circa 2500 BC - with the ubiquitous eagle of Saladin. Rising from beneath the Euphorates, the cloaked King tries to assume the powerful stance he is typically depicted in as part of ancient Assyrian reliefs. His status as a symbol of strength and unity, however, is undermined within Athier’s painting. Physically devoured by the lions and eagles he once claimed to dominate, Gilgamesh disintegrates into nothingness, while the deformed eight-pronged star of Shamash he holds upon a pole is crushed.