Action 97. Algerian civilians suspected of being terrorists are searched and put on trucks to be taken to the interrogation cells, Algiers, 1956, 2010, triptych, edition 1 of 3, silver gelatin print on aluminium, 190 x 245,4 cm
In the midst of the Iran-Iraq conflict, Reza Aramesh leaves his country, at the age of sixteen. He is searching for freedom and tolerance. Initial he has the USA in mind like many young people. However he stops in London. He graduates in Fine Arts at Goldsmiths University in 1997.
Reza creates sculptures, makes videos and is photographer. He does not show sensational images of blood and guns like in the media but the unseen moments of fear and personal drama of the affected people. Aramesh is looking for war photos in magazines and on the internet. There are plenty of them. They often show horribly mutilated people, violently killed and this all over the world. Nobody seems 'to see' them. Reza studies them carefully. Since 2008 they are the source of inspiration for a series of numbered works, called Actions. Aramesh reconstructs the scenes of violence in modern apartments, stately mansions and museums. The viewer cannot date or locate the black and white photos in the strangely chosen sites. Aramesh doesn't reproduces sensational images. He reveals the dignity of the victims and makes the viewer focus on the emotion of the instant. The artist chooses a location and picks up non professional male models, mostly North Africans, in casual, everyday clothes.
In 'Action 97. Algerian civilians suspected of being terrorists are searched and put on trucks to be taken to the interrogation cells, Algiers, 1956' of 2010 the artist replays a scene from the Franco-Algerian conflict of the 50s of the last century, the Algerian war of independence. Aramesh was invited to compose his shots in the Rodin Museum in Paris, where he stayed as artist in residence. The wealth of the place offers a challenging contrast to the models naked bodies. Aramesh makes a clear connection between war and wealth. The artist once said: "War is about money, power and greed ".
'Action 97' is not a performance but a reconstruction behind closed doors, a reconstruction with a intended composition, studied poses, gestures and expressions. On one hand pictures of violence and suffering attract and on the other hand they push off. These feelings were already present in the iconography of suffering in Christian art. The artist divides his images into diptychs and triptychs, like the multipartite structures, typical of Christian altarpieces.
In 'Action 97' the background is formed by a central window, flanked by two similarly sized mirrors. Aramesh doesn't only use images that circulate worldwide in the press as a source of inspiration but he reworks them in a carefully chosen composition that refers to famous masterpieces. The artist places the beauty of the human body, the classic sculpture, in front of the beauty of the space. In this beautiful symmetrical composition our eye is focused directly on the black figure in the center and then the naked torso of a young man. The protagonist is squatting, his arms tied behind his back, in front of the historical bronze statue 'L' Âge d'Airain' of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Such attention to symmetry of power, tension en beauty contributes to the aesthetic impact of the image and offers protection against the apathy that an overdose of war images can cause among people. The image of only male, young, half-naked models gives the representation a homo-erotic dimension, with a surrealistic side.
Relying on his deep knowledge of the history of art, film and literature, Reza Aramesh reproduces the violence in the world in facial expressions and body language of victims of war and repression. The source of violence cannot be seen but violence is palpable in the attitudes of the figures. They are scorching symbols of the human suffering caused by terror. The many violent images, spread by the media, can cause a certain indifference to people, which can lead to voyeurism. Aramesh isolates the victims of violence. He leads the viewer into the intimacy of the scene. The artist is protesting against politicians who cause conflicts, against violence and the waste of lives. He creates delicate but powerful works that keep us alert to the personal suffering caused by war and terror. Reza Aramesh says about his art: "This has always been central to my work... can restaging violence and oppression in different contexts, engaged with the original act of violence, or at least get us to think about that act?"
Text: Myriam Geurts