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TALA MADANI, Family Portrait, 2019, oil on linen, 96.8 × 76.2 × 3.2 cm. Photo by Lee Thompson. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Between the Waking Life and the Lucid Dream

Tala Madani is best known for her comically twisted paintings and stop-motion animations that portray middle-aged men and mischievous toddlers engaging in destructive, perverse, and sometimes gruesome acts. With nimble lines and expressive brushstrokes, the artist attempts to capture the candid moment when an idea first emerges, and, in the process, index the action of painting on her canvases. In doing so she offers viewers a glimpse of her subconscious world, shaped not only by her personal experience and imagination but also by the complexities of contemporary life. In Dress Codes (2015), for example, two men are stripped naked and subjected to the gaze of three smiley-emoji-faced women. In other works, antiheroic imageries propose an alternate reality through which Madani re-examines history, humanity, and the concept of personhood. This is evident in Dirty Protest (2015), which depicts toddlers defiantly peeing and using a paint-roller to smear feces on a wall, calling to mind the “dirty protests” of Irish activists incarcerated in the British-run Maze Prison (1976–81) and Armagh Prison (1980–81) during The Troubles. Perhaps it is only natural that Madani cites as her favorite movie Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò (1975), a boundary-smashing film exploring the themes of coprophagy, sadism, abuse of power, and political corruption. 

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