Dust Over Aleppo

Solo Exhibition Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney
21 October – 8 November 2014

Images by Mick Richards

Karen Black by Freya Herring | art guide Australia | Posted 21
Oct 2014

Karen Black’s new exhibition, Dust over Aleppo, at Sydney gallery Sullivan+Strumpf, is not for the faint-hearted. At first, her paintings seem light and full of beautiful colours. On closer inspection, however, they depict something deeply sad. Perhaps this sudden transition from beauty to tragedy is what makes them so moving, or perhaps the subject alone is enough. Either way, Dust Over Aleppo is set to induce a rollercoaster of emotions in audiences.

  • “I made the work about Aleppo, the biggest city in Syria,” says Black. “I didn’t know the news would be centred on that area of the world when I started making the work. It is filled with ancient cities dating back to the third millennium BC. And so the work is about people’s lives in Aleppo and what is happening to them on the ground, placing them in those historical buildings.”

    The paintings depict a war-torn city, and so every painting is undercoated in marble dust, “All of a sudden over there, in all of the videos, everyone is coated in this pale dust,” says Black, referencing the regular bombings of the city. “It’s because all of the buildings are made out of limestone and marble.”

    Black’s previous work is filled with vibrant colour but for this show she decided to employ a more subdued palette. “I used more white in these works than ever before because ‘Aleppo’ means ‘white’ for the white marble in the area, and I wanted to reflect that. But I also wanted to reflect the disappearing world, as an allegory for the disappearing world that we’re living in, as well as a disappearing Syria.”

    Her palest painting to date, Reflection of the World, 2014, is about this very concept, “It’s about
    our fading world, because we are wiping it out, and we are wiping each other out,” she says. Subjects seem to walk around blindly in the painting. “It’s like no one is really listening or watching or taking notice, they are all just going about their business while the world is crumbling around them.”

    Works such as Death Falls from the Sky, 2014, recall the events of an apartment block being bombed, where children fall from the buildings onto the pavement below and mothers cradle the bodies. The concept of mother and child has long been of interest to this artist. “I represent women and children in my work because I think they hold a lot of stories that are central to family and what’s going on in the community,” she says.

    It takes time to read Black’s paintings, to see the narratives in each and every work. Faces and bodies jump out of the paint, suddenly glaring at you from the corner of your eyes, which is part of the point. “I want people to search out to find the stories in my work,” she says, “it’s an allegory of how we read the newspapers and just get snippets of information, but it’s not the right information. You’ve got to really search out information to get to the crux of what’s really going on.