MAstars 2012: Basil Al-Rawi, MA Photographic Studies
Basil Al-Rawi, 'Untitled no.3' from the series 'Façade', 2012. Photograph. 76cm x 102cm. Credit: Basil Al-Rawi
Angela Weight selects Basil Al-Rawi from the University of Westminster for MAstars
The three large prints that Basil Al-Rawi showed at the University of Westminster’s MA Photography graduate exhibition were striking images of extreme starkness, giving no visual clue as to where this empty, fenced-in space might be, or what its purpose was. It turns out that this is the periphery of Dublin, where there are many unused development sites encircled by hoardings, abandoned since the Irish property bubble burst in 2008. In the accompanying book, Façade, most of the hoardings have been photographed exactly parallel to the picture frame, from the other side of the road on which they stand. This viewpoint flattens perspective and creates an abstract pattern of horizontals: tarmac, white road marking, grass verge or concrete footing, hoarding, sky. Where the tops of trees or tall weeds are visible above the hoardings, they seem like tentative signs of life on the other side of nowhere.
Basil Al-Rawi, 'Untitled no.5' from the series 'Façade', 2012. Photograph. 76cm x 102cm. Credit: Basil Al-Rawi
To make the location anonymous and to strip out visual clutter, Al-Rawi removed all the textual information from the advertising panels on the hoardings. What’s left is either a blank rectangle of background colour – blue, purple, pink - or idealised images of affluent young people smiling and relaxing in the kind of stylish interior that the developers envisaged would be built on the site. They purvey a false dream world, a world so shallow that it is scarcely credible that anyone could have been deceived by it – other perhaps than the developers themselves. One of the most telling shots is of a hoarding where the advertising poster has disappeared altogether, leaving only the woodgrain of the exposed plywood, blackened by damp. Now these once temporary fences, weathered relics of an illusionary age, form part of the topography of the city.
In some areas the hoardings have given way to the breeze-block shells of half-built housing estates. The interiors are littered with builders’ rubble and the walls are stained with the smoke from fires that have been lit by persons unknown. These are the new ruins of contemporary Europe. The air of desolation and abandonment contrasts with the verdant landscape framed by the empty windows of these `executive homes’. Although these images complement the preceding series of hoardings and have a similarly deadpan approach, they have a more documentary feel because the interior spaces offer less scope for experimentation. Here it is the detail within the image and the dichotomy between inside and outside which counts.
Basil Al-Rawi, 'Untitled no.6' from the series 'Façade', 2012. Photograph. 76cm x 102cm. Credit: Basil Al-Rawi
Al-Rawi, who is of mixed Irish and Iraqi parentage, trained as a cinematographer at the Irish National Film School, but has moved back to still photography because at times it can offer him more creative freedom, 'not constrained by budgets or other people's ideas and schedules'. Influenced by Andreas Gursky's conceptual framework, he also cites approvingly the work of Edgar Martins and one of his teachers at the University of Westminster, Mitra Tabrizian. 'Photography is an illusionary medium', he says, 'but it is also a way of intervening, commenting on and understanding our reality.'
Selected by Angela Weight
Published November, 2012
About Angela Weight
Angela Weight began her curatorial career at Aberdeen Art Gallery before moving back to London to take up a post at the Imperial War Museum. As Keeper of Art until 2005, she was responsible for establishing an exhibition programme that highlighted the wartime careers of artists such as Richard Eurich, Carel Weight, Paul Nash, John Piper, Eric Ravilious CRW Nevinson and Sir William Orpen, as well as building new audiences through acquisitions and displays of contemporary art and photography. She served on the Museum’s Art Commissions Committee for over 20 years. Now an independent curator and writer, she curated the display of Sir John Lavery’s paintings War at Sea for the re-opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in November 2011. She is currently a consultant to the Imperial War Museum and Wolverhampton Art Gallery and has a special interest in contemporary European and Middle Eastern art and photography.