Maryam Najd

The Aesthetics of Sin

Opening Sunday 15 April 2018 14:0018:00

Exhibition15 April 19 May 2018   

Exhibition views


There are few recurring battlegrounds of culture like that of the body. With lines drawn between cultural, ideological and religious specificities, it is a battleground that also manifests itself repeatedly in the production and circulation of images. Representations of gender, sexuality, femininity and the woman’s body in particular, not just in mass media, but also in art, remain a divisive area between typical dichotomies of ‘free expression’ and ‘censorship’, historically determined and policed through competing paternalisms. The body and its image becomes the site of a kind of proxy war between cultures that might even exist in the same civil society, as well as under the conditions of globalisation. And the existence of art as a manifestation of human subjectivity, naturally has to deal with such situations.

The core of the issue, you might say, is around the understanding of what and where ‘freedom’ is. Something earned? Something imposed? Something universal? Something absent? Something personal? We can see such a thing as the tolerance of an image of a nude occurring, or not, depending on the context. Nudes are of course very much part of the historical Western tradition and its canon. But their presence varies greatly across time and geography. In many other regions and traditions around the world, including various Islamic cultures, the nude is inhibited due to codes of modesty. In fact, depictions of all sentient beings might be inhibited under laws of Aniconism, in favour of calligraphic text and geometry. It thus follows that artistic training in such a context can follow prohibition of image-making with the nude as its subject, often regulated by state or religious forces. What happens when one’s conditions of practice are changed for that of another?

Typically working in series, Maryam Najd has made several new paintings for her exhibition titled The Aesthetics of Sin, which follow in this longstanding historical artistic mode of the human nude. They are images of individuals in good physical health and fitness, depicted with figurative realism, near studious of the human form, like is typical of formal Western training. All though, are based primarily on images appropriated from the internet, rather than through observing the pose of the hired life model. An artist who had her formative training in the University of Fine Arts (Alzahra) in Tehran before circumstances demanded a relocation to Antwerp, Najd entered a new society and artistic scene with its own modes and traditions of image-making. The artist has used this series as a way to undertake a personal exercise in making the kind of images that existed outside the parameters of her formative experiences. They might be seen to be asking a subjective question about what ‘sin’ looks like.

The nude paintings place the depicted individuals on a dark ground. Their bodies have a low luminosity. They are not eroticised bodies per se, but still perhaps susceptible to a sexualised gaze. Layered washes of colour half-veil the nudes, suspending them between sharp visibility and being drawn into the darkness of the void. There is a tension that holds the images; they have a kind of in-between-ness – between figuration and monochrome, between sensuality and restraint. With these paintings, Najd point us towards a grey area, where the typical contentions possess more ambiguity. Perhaps the speculative dimension of art could offer a space of negotiation, rather than one of conflict?

Nav Haq, Senior Curator at M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp