Ahmed Alsoudani says that America is a dreamland. Yet, his complex paintings of violence and warfare are very much influenced by his upbringing.
Alsoudani, 37, grew up in Baghdad and, after fleeing to Syria during his youth, he immigrated to the United States in 1999. He has since achieved much in this so-called dreamland, earning degrees from the Maine College of Art as well as the Yale School of Art.
His latest accomplishment is a showcase of paintings at Phoenix Art Museum, titled “Ahmed Alsoudani: Redacted.” It’s the first major museum survey of his work, and we talked with the New York-based artist about this work and about his life experiences.
Q: Was being an artist a realistic dream to have as a young boy in Iraq?
A: Of course. We have a very established art scene in Iraq. (I didn’t initially want to be an artist) because my parents were kind of conservative. Even here (in America), it would be risky to let your kids go to art school. But… I wasn’t really thinking about art school when I was in Baghdad. I wasn’t better than other students in my high school, in terms of drawing and painting.
Q: What were your thoughts on America before you came here?
A: …American culture is not strange for almost everyone. It’s a very dominant culture around the world. So we are familiar with the (cities), with the people, with the customs through the movies, through the singers, through art….The language is common because English is a dominant language around the world… Everybody knows on a certain level what’s going on. We are familiar with the culture.
Q: Why do you choose to focus on ideas of violence and warfare in your paintings?
A: I will say I’m more interested in the chaos around the world, chaos that affects us on a daily basis. I do feel it’s my responsibility to address the issue that’s affecting us. I do value the human being, and if something affects our lives, I really cannot isolate myself from it.
The romantic idea about the artist who is living in their own world does not exist. We are people. We have friends. We have family. We live in the city. We see what’s going on. We read the news. So, as a visual person, this is the way, through my paintings, that I communicate with the world.
Q: How do people respond to your paintings?
A: …We have a very busy life. And (life) really gets crowded, and I really appreciate it when people are willing to take half of their day or a few hours just to go to a museum and to see art… I have a really great time talking to people and seeing how they react to (my) paintings.
Some people really enjoy some of them, some people say the paintings, they are disturbing. Some people, they say they are scary. Some people, they say they are interesting. So, people have a different opinion and different reaction as well. And I think with my paintings, the reaction can count a lot on the experience of people themselves.
Q: What do you take inspiration from?
A: I steal from hundreds of people. I look to great artists from the Renaissance to the modern art to the contemporary. I listen to music, I read poetry, I read literature, I go to a movie theatre, I look to fashion magazines. So, all these things. We are lucky we have access to all these things… The more tools I have, the better for me to operate with my paintings.
• Ellen, a junior studying at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: See “Ahmed Alsoudani: Redacted,” a showcase of work by an Iraqi-born artist.
When: On display 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through July 17.
Where: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave.
Cost: $6-$15 per person. Admission is free 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. the first Friday of each month.
Information: (602) 257-1222 or PHXart.org