Rather than fall into the sort of pop-psychology that claims to sort out why the children of the well-off (Osama bin-Laden included) may find “radicalism” attractive, Daisy Rockwell’s “cheeky little volume” of paintings and minimalist essays, The Little Book of Terror, offers a series of “big-name, international rogues” as well as the small fry caught in a big net. But, as Sepia Mutiny reports, “the feeling of uneasiness comes not from these over-chronicled villain archetypes whose images we’ve all seen scattered over televisions a hundred times over.” Instead, that unease comes from the realization that “The State is…a makeup artist,” as Amitava Kumar writes in the introduction to the book: the theatre surrounding “the bad guys” portray the accused as the “shabbiest” of actors with the “worst lines.” But beyond the re-plays repeated on CNN, we also see that the State is skilled “at presenting us with people who come to us stripped of any sign of place or past”: this way, we only see terrorists and terror without a contextualising history.
Rockwell works from some of those highly publicised photographs for many of her paintings, giving the captured people a depth that photography and the State’s vision of them often robs. She writes, in an email correspondence, “I have been interested in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for some time. Looking through photos of him on the internet, it was almost hard to pick which one to work with because he looks kind of sad and lost in all of them.” Her fauve painter’s techniques capture the “ordinary teen” who sported jeans and T-shirts, track suits, headphones, and rode a red-and-blue motorbike too fast sometimes. Her painting also reveals a significant moment in the life of a young man: he has found himself in a location where, perhaps, his limited understanding of subjectivity intersects with power structures that had over-determined the fortunes of vast swathes of humanity. It is far more than he is ready to face. Here, in this photograph, Rockwell points out, “he seemed excited to model his new Nike hat, and perhaps excited to be in London.” In a way, he had too much understanding, but little wisdom or equanimity. “I felt like that interaction with Empire might have somehow informed his eventual decision to attempt to make himself into a human bomb.”
Read the full piece here.
In her portrait of Alessa, Rockwell depicts him in bubble-gum pink tones, prone on a floral bedspread, cuddling with his beloved cat, Princess Tuna. Unsettling. The narrative of terror that we often see seldom contains photos of wannabe terrorists cuddling with their kitty cats, or of the underwear bomber as a sullen teenager, posing during a school trip.