The Syrian artist Diana Al-Hadid`s massive, often apartment-size sculptures explore subjects ranging from ancient architecture to pipe organs, all in various states of disarray and made from relatively inexpensive materials like chicken wire, cardboard and polyurethane foam. The artist (who had her first solo museum show in 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles) is now part of the group show “Invisible Cities” at the MASS MoCA and will have a solo show in September at Marianne Boesky.
“Nollis Orders,” her contribution to “Invisible Cities,” and which I had the pleasure of viewing in various states of production, is a sprawling achievement, comprising many of the themes Al-Hadid has tackled in the last few years: “This piece began about a year and a half ago, and in that time I also finished about five large sculptures, so it has benefited from discoveries made from those works along the way,” she explained. “I`ve been working with the figure for the past few years, and wanted go a bit further and create a small ‚population` of figures. I pulled them out from Northern Renaissance and Mannerist paintings, and isolated them so they were no longer entangled among each other or locked inside the narrative of the original setting. This is how I began, levitating the figures above a series of pedestals – or ‚buildings` – arranged on a grid. I then became primarily engaged with them as compositional elements rather than as characters in a story, curious to see how much I could remove and what would remain. It was another exercise in the mass-to-void balancing act, and in trying to get the thing to change as one rotates around it.”
Name: Diana Al-Hadid. Place of origin: Born in Aleppo, Syria; grew up in northeast Ohio. Current location: Brooklyn, N.Y. Best thing you`ve seen lately – not your own: The glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Any hidden talents? Tetris. I`m also pretty good at hiding things. What`s next? My solo show at Marianne Boesky Gallery Jaipur, India, may be called “The Pink City,” but in truth it`s gray and dusty, a wonderful place of crumbling beauty. Now in its fifth year, the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, which was held inside a 200-year-old palace at the end of January, is breathing new life into this very old town. The event draws an increasingly curious cross-section of India`s vibrant literary scene: authors, publishers, readers, schoolchildren, old poets, young journalists, socialites, minor royalty, major art collectors, literary aspirants, Nosy Parkers – in short anyone who has ever felt the power of a good book.
Faith Singh, the woman behind the amazing Anokhi craft and textile shops scattered across India, was the original driving force behind the festival, along with Thakur Ram Pratap Singh, who owns the delightful Diggi Palace, where the event is held. He recently recalled the festival‚Äôs earliest days, when 15 authors showed up in total and there were as few as 20 people at each reading. At that time, organizers had to corral family and friends to fill seats. That intimate gathering of book lovers has blossomed into a five-day event, which this year attracted more than 120,000 attendees and 260 speakers, including Micheal Ondaatje, Javed Akhtar, Katherine Boo, Richard Dawkins and Joseph Lelyveld. Inside the palace, which is painted a soft blue, conversations about books and writing take place in every corner. As a book designer, book lover and occasional writer, this was my first outing to the festival, and so thoroughly charmed was I that my return next year is guaranteed. I ran into Tom Stoppard, who graciously paused for a 20-minute conversation about, among other things, the beauty of the wintry dusk in Jaipur. I attended late-night publishing parties held in exquisite settings, ranging from the opulent Rambagh Palace, with its princely domes and vintage cars, to the oh-so-charming Raj Palace (housed within the walls of the old city) to the bejeweled private dining rooms at the peak of the ancient Amber Fort. And I was crushed against the walls of the Mughal Tent, where 1,200 fellow Indian bibliophiles listened to David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, give a talk on the “Disappointment of Obama.”
In a rapidly booming economy like India`s, where some days everything seems to be about money, or the best path to accumulating it, an event dedicated to literature and writing feels like a rare bird, the likes of which one will never see again. And yet the event seems to get bigger each year. Chiki Sarkar, the newly appointed publisher of Penguin Books India, said the Indian reading public is becoming more sophisticated with each passing festival. “The audience this year was sharper, with smarter questions,” she said, also noting that the festival awarded a $50,000 prize to a previously little-known Sri Lankan writer, Shehan Karunatilaka, whose first novel, “Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew,” came out last year to raves.