Tishk Barzanji’s new collection, A New Day, is steeped in personal history and geography and is designed to be a celebration of the Solar Equinox as celebrated for thousands of years by Kurdish and Persian communities. Though when divorced from the particular politics and geographies of the artist, the work exists strongly in the lineage of Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings. Born to Greek parents, de Chirico's family was part of a major Greek Catholic migration to Italy. He is best known for his works that feature long shadows, mannequins, illogical perspectives, and the mythology of his ancestral homeland.
While there is no Escher-like perspective manipulation in Barzanji’s work, the feelings of disorientation are profound within the eerie calm of the almost feasible. Spaces and architecture have an uncanny valley too, and Brazanji drops us into such a space. Just as de Chirico’s flat, anonymous surfaces were created from what he called the 'metaphysical aspect' of Turin’s archway architecture, Brazanji was impacted by his move to London at the age of 8 where he experienced the Brutalist style for the first time.
Brutalist architecture emerged during the 1950s in the United Kingdom primarily among the reconstruction projects of the post-war era, though it is more common in post-war communist nations. The Brutalist style, as seen in Brazanji's collection, is also characterized by unpainted concrete and angular geometric shapes.
I must here admit I am quite partial to Brutalism. My studio is in London’s famously brutalist Barbican Center, which was created in the aforementioned post-war reconstruction. A large area in the center of the city was destroyed by bombing and the commission to rebuild it was given to a group of friends straight out of architecture school who had big dreams, the nearly full support of the city, a utopian bend, and little to no practical experience. The result is both a maze and a castle, considered by some to be so ugly it is beautiful. We must be glad that Brazanji’s color palette, which in A New Day is brightly characteristic of his earlier work, seems to have been taken from outside the UK. In the Brutalist structure of his work, we feel how architecture can be both inflicted upon and chosen by us. The geometrically imposed isolation of a space can also create safety and pervasive solidity. For better or worse, the forms in A New Day feel permanent. Whether Brazanji’s use of the Brutalist form is acquiescence or adoption (possibly both) it has the viewer explore the isolation of the political diaspora also experienced in Milan Kundera's fiction. Brazanji has been in the UK for decades but like Kundera living in France and writing in French, but never internally or externally escaping the themes and reputation of being a Czech author.
Notably Brazanji’s feature no animation. Whatever this place is within his works, it is not in motion. It is not inclined to change. It is worth considering Brazanji’s new collection in conversation with XR artist Dhiren Dasu whose architecturally constructed faces evoke the surveillance of spaces and the evolution of colonial architectures into digital forms of control. While often exhibited as still images, when presented in AR and moving image, Dasu's work applies animation that deepens the feelings of architectural anthropomorphism. Dasu's work at The Mud Foundation's Media Under Dystopia exhibition, opening on Nov 29 in Miami, will feature one such animation. By contrast, neither the architect nor the figures in Brazanji’s work are life-like. Though they are not as mannequin-esk as they are in de Chirico, they share a similar dehumanization and formal function of creating negative space and visual structure seemingly indifferent in purpose from the walls, staircases, and columns.
Both the title and artist statements associated with the work are definitely hopeful about the future of the world despite its relation to themes of homeland and post-colonialism igniting around the world. But I’m not sure that’s where the hope is really coming from in this series. Brazanji started his art practice as a therapeutic journey when he was diagnosed with a severe case of Migraine Vertigo. The hope, and I do believe there is some in this work, emanates from the artist’s ability to make and make worlds from the debris. The figures may feel stuck inside a darker world, but as the viewer we see this work as the artist does, as a way out and into whatever world we choose to make.
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