On the occasion of this past Monday, I decided since everyone else was doing it, I might as well hold my own little 911 observation. It occurred to me to paint a portrait of UbL, since I’ve been working on portraiture lately (by which I mean ‘making portraits’ rather than in the academic sense of ‘working on’). The result is to the left (click for a larger version). In order to prepare for my 911 observation, I embarked on an image search, hoping to find a nicely pixellated photograph of the man in question. I was surprised to find that there are basically three photos of UbL floating around on the web. They are below, with some minor variations (and of course the variations between these three is minimal; the second two were probably taken on the same occasion):
All others are either cartoons, or bits of photoshoppery that are designed to make UbL look foolish, evil, or obscene. Some videos, satirical and otherwise, can also be found on YouTube, but we can save that for another day. What interested me more was the ‘real’ art depicting UbL that I found out here.
Hollywood publicists have to be studying this phenomenon just a teeny bit: how can you keep your client protected from the public eye and manage to control the images available of him or her on the internet while achieving maximum daily exposure? On top of that, we’ve barely heard from him since 911. This paucity of visual images of UbL has forced all cartoonists, photoshoppers and artists to rely on the same images over and over again, enhancing magnificently the iconic stature of their elusive subject. This also makes his likeness quite easy to recreate, since that image is indelibly stamped in everyone’s imagination. And unless he is someday dragged humiliatingly from a foxhole like S. Hussain, or produced dead and in more or less one recognizable piece like Al-Z., this may be all we ever see of him. If some gentle reader knows of a good stash of other images, especially those captured during UbL’s youthful decadence (can it really be true that he wanted to make Whitney Houston his bride and assassinate Bobby Brown?), please speak up!
Below is a round-up of some of the UbL art I happened upon during my searches. As far as the rest of the imagery goes, there are many UbL cartoon sites, and the photoshoppage is all over the internet, most famously represented in the Bert is Evil shenanigans. You’ll notice that each of the artists below has used one of the three photographs above as models. In the Bin Laden Pieta, however, the photograph is flipped horizontally. It’s possibly the case with both the Werner Horvath paintings as well, as I believe both are taken from the same photo op, when UbL was wearing a camouflage jacket and had a banner with white calligraphy on a black background behind his head. It is also possibly worthy to note that none of these artists appear to be even a little bit from/in/around the United States.
Examples of UbL Art:
1. Bin Laden Pieta (2002) by Sokari Douglas Camp:
This pieta by Nigerian-British artist Sokari Douglas Camp is kind of mysterious, since the Mary-figure with the portrait of the planes hitting the towers in her hands looks a lot like Darth Vader. If we are to take the title as the Italian word for ‘compassion’ it makes a bit more sense. With the portraits of UbL fixed in the two upper corners of the back wall of the sculpture, one wonders if one is supposed to see him as part of the compassion, or just a related figure in the ensemble. Well, either way, who says it has to make sense, even if it is concept-ual art. And guess what, there’s good news for you collectors out there, it’s 140 x 88 x 125 cm, and it’s for sale! I’m sure the Bin Laden Pieta would make the perfect accent for any sophisticated salon in Blogistan.
2. Those Bengali folk painters have done it again!
True to the venerable folk art trafficking tradition, this appealing little painting is not attributed to any artist. The rationale I have heard for this is that folk artists do not have an auteur-centered art scene the way that ‘Western’ artists do. Instead they just paint their timeless and cyclic scenes depicting the harvest and episodes from the Ramayana in a manner handed down for generations, from mother to daughter, or father to son. And of course, not attributing authorship to particular works allows art dealers such as the folks over at Exotic India Art to block enterprising collectors from motoring through rural Bihar or West Bengal to buy directly from the artists. One doesn’t doubt that the folk painters of Bengal have been painting quaint little scenes of contemporary geo-political events for centuries. Keep up the good work, Bengali folk painters!
3. Great American Nude, by Hassan Musa
Another item that pretty much speaks for itself, Sudanese artist Hassan Musa’s Great American Nude was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2005 in an exhibit called Africa Remix. Unlike other depictions of UbL as a nude, this one isn’t lampooning him so much as it is the US and his relationship to that nation-state. Musa is also a calligrapher, cartoonist and critic, so his style is very, ahem, graphic. You can see some pretty sweet examples of his zoomorphic calligraphy on his website and also here. I’m putting one up here because who doesn’t love zoomorphography, even if it is considered by purists to be a degraded and pandersome form of the calligraphic arts?
These two paintings by Austrian constructivist painter Werner Horvath are actually both the left-hand side of triptychs depicting the so-called ‘clash of civilizations.’ I’m assuming he’s using the term ironically, but I could be completely wrong. The other elements in the triptychs of course also involve W (who in one painting is dressed as a crusader ripping the heart out of a stricken Statue of Liberty [at least that's what I think is going on]). You can see the full triptychs by clicking here. If you click on each of these pictures you’ll see in the larger versions the bizarreness of Horvath’s technique. If you look at the images closely, you’ll see the paint piled up in all sorts of improbable globular shapes on the canvas, but when the images are far away, or in this case, tiny, the style seems traditional enough. He calls himself a constructivist, but I’d say he’s a neo-Impressionist, or maybe even an adherent of globulism.