Recently Made Artwork | March

Ali Banisadr, The Caravan, 2020

By Patricia Hickson, Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art

Ali Banisadr, "The Caravan"
Ali Banisadr (American, born Iran 1976), The Caravan, 2020.
The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund⁣

Inhabiting the “between space” of hallucinations and dreams, Ali Banisadr’s paintings explore intangible worlds balancing figuration and abstraction, order and disorder, energy and entropy. His artistic process relates to synesthesia—a state in which one sense triggers another, such as seeing a sound or hearing a color. Provoked by his experience of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), as a young boy in Tehran, Banisadr made sense of the Iraqi bombings by drawing pictures of monsters. His work continues to be shaped by sound today—derived from “an interior place…[where] the senses are super enhanced”—which he visualizes as energy, rhythm, and color in paintings.

Banisadr’s early life—moves between Iran, Turkey, California, and New York—and extensive travels as an adult, fuel his interest in world cultures, art history, and current events. Theatrical compositions burst with agitated masses and individuals in motion, or commotion. Especially connected to this time of turmoil—from the coronavirus pandemic to George Floyd’s murder—the compositions assume the form of political rallies, protest marches, and street riots. Banisadr’s figures are curious hybrids—otherworldly combinations of human, animal, vegetable, and machine.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569), The Triumph of Death, c. 1562. Museo del Prado, Madrid

Specific to The Caravan, Banisadr cites Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Triumph of Death (c. 1562) as an inspiration. Created in response to a second wave of the bubonic plague in the 1500s, the Bruegel painting depicts a scorched and barren landscape in which an army of skeletons indiscriminately takes the lives of people, young and old, rich and poor; including several people being trampled under a wagon. The painting is a meditation on death, which will ultimately take us all.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death (detail), c. 1562. Museo del Prado, Madrid;
Ali Banisadr, The Caravan (detail), 2020

Titles matter to Banisadr, and The Caravan focuses our vision on the wagon wheel along the bottom edge of his own painting. A set of legs poke through the spokes, a literal depiction of the world being stuck and movement shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. Two yellow suns—on the upper left and right of the moody blue canvas—also signal that this world has gone terribly awry.

The Caravan was featured in Ali Banisadr / MATRIX 185 (October 22, 2020 — February 14, 2021) and purchased for the Wadsworth’s permanent collection in November 2020.