In a Whirl between Perception and Imagination

A holiday in May 2021, the sun is shining; the otherwise bustling car park in the backyard of the studio complex at Düsseldorf Zooviertel is calm today; windows are wide opened. Haure Madjid begins our talk with a description of his method. After setting up the canvas, he commences the painting process, as he says, by choosing the paint, more precisely heavy pigmented oil paint. He tests the canvas by applying the first layer of paint; inspects every corner if the cloth is ready to be treated; he further checks the brushes, the primer, the site within the studio, the incidence of light. If he has made sure that all is set, he is ready to explore this new territory painterly. He experiences such an initial stage with the paint as open-ended, which is different from having a particular form at the outset. Through the color, he unclenches the image. Madjid delineates his painting process not as strictly determined, but he instead follows what such needs. 

Haure Madjid is an artist who develops his series of works over long periods. In these series, he deals with color and image creation and the transference of remembered images into painting. From observations, books, and biographical stimuli, he devises his topics. He was born in the mid-1970s in a Northern Iraqi village, in Kurdistan, wherefore he was early on confronted with expulsion and restricted freedom of movement. Stories about a landscape left behind and memories of lost gardens have shaped his imaginary world. After his early fine art studies in the North Iraqi mega-city Sulaimaniyya, he resumed his art education with the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from the early 2000 years.

At the end of his studies, Madjid painted magnified cut-outs from illustrations of ornaments. He extracted such motives from books of Islamic and pre-Islamic architecture, ceramics, painting, natural sciences, and book illumination. He adopted fragments from these imaginary sources and translated them in a reduced color palette and enlarged shapes onto large-scale canvases. Appearing abstract, geometrical, and minimalistic in style, such fragments highlight the essence of the ornament: It has no beginning, no midst, and no end. The single pieces are repeating and reproducing themselves; therefore, they are occupying the whole pictorial space. That way, Madjid decontextualizes the ornament by detaching it from ideological and historical contexts and examining its functionality. 

This examination he set forth in a subsequent work series. The motivation for this series stems from the book “De Materia Medica” by Pedanios Dioskurides, one of the most prominent doctors from antiquity. This book holds as one of the pioneering studies of pharmacy. Dioskurides researched poisonous and medical plants, gathered drawings of plants by different painters of his time. Madjid drilled down on this book and opted for the small picture “the lentil plant,” which likely has been produced in Northern Iraq or Syria. He recognized how the lentil plant had been designed, and he discovered something between stylized, symmetrical, idealized order and organic divergence and variation. In such interplay, he noticed different concepts, imageries, cultures, and interpretations clashing. Thus, he asks himself how an image emerges. Through seeing or through thinking? In a whirl between perception and imagination?

The studies of the ornament, floral patterns, and genesis of the image he carried on until they have been suddenly interrupted: 2014, the terror organization IS had conquered significant areas of Syria and Iraq. Madjid was shocked. He decided to paint people. Such events brought about 15 large-scale works, larger than life, and seemingly iconic depictions of fictitious faces. Such cannot be identified with specific persons and, therefore, remain enigmatic in their belonging. Madjid did not work according to a template, and thus, the faces cannot tell a lot about themselves, but they create presence through their gazes and style of design and take over their surrounding space. During the painting process, Madjid remembers his life in the early-1990s in Northern Iraq. There he worked as a young painter in a group of artists, intellectuals, poets, and musicians. Most of them had to leave the country behind. Madjid portraits present faces by peers: his generation.


After these portraits, Madjid developed the work series “The garden.” This series is characterized through tales by his parents about the expulsion from their village. Madjid’s parents told him about the prettiness of their place and the Kurdish landscapes. These images illustrate colorful calyxes in variations. Such are stylized depictions of plants, though they also convey a melancholy feel of a specific lighting mood. Madjid comprehends this garden as a metaphor of something lost – somewhat that cannot be retrieved.

Working in series enables Madjid to consider a topic from very different angles; to study such in detail. Initially, every image needs to speak for itself. It needs to stay autonomous since every image of each series the artist understands as an individual with its history. Working in series also means something collective to him. A group emerges, which belongs together, in which every single image relies on the others. One image helps the other. These are formed little by little, until Madjid eventually feels that one period is completed.

Before we end our conversation, I would like to know if Madjid reflects his practice within contemporary discourses. In his studio, illustrated volumes about the work of Félix Vallotton, of Paul Cézanne, books about the idea of the landscape or light can be found. Next to these, books by Robert Ryman and Edward Said. With Ryman, Madjid contemplates color and deepens his reflection about the autonomous image. Edward Said has been a companion throughout his studies and enabled him to think about the Western gaze on Kurdistan. Within the Western centers of power, conceptions about the Middle East have been constructed that still claim agency. Furthermore, such need to be decolonized in lengthy political but also artistic processes. Haure Madjid is engaged within these decolonizing acts: He is a painter who is concerned with color and image creation, with painterly debates about realism, materiality, and presence. And he is a painter who develops his works from memories and stories. Images of plants, people, and landscapes strive to let go of any ideological contexts. 


By Anne Schülke 

Translation: Franziska Wilmsen

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© 2021 by Haure Madjid