"The Khashoggi Story" (Installation and Drawings)

There have been hundreds of journalists murdered in the modern era. What makes the Kashoggi murder any more significant? In the experiment that is our corporate democracy, this must now be the first time that a leader of our country has publicly shrugged his shoulders and admitted that commerce trumps human rights… a verb that is now personified into a being. Trump stated that the 2017 Saudi Arms Deal was more important than speaking out against human rights: “After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. “ - “That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

For my project, “The Khashoggi Story” I have decided to create a new interactive installation as part of a larger group show that I am organizing at Waterfall Arts for the summer of 2019 as a part of their year long theme of Altered Environments. The larger group show is called “Gallery Closed” and will feature four artists including myself, all of who will transform the posture of the hosting venue through artwork that establishes itself as an art entity. With my piece I will build a series of walls or rooms that appear to close off access to Waterfall Arts’ Clifford Gallery. On each wall will hang a stretched canvas that can be opened like a door and which covers an opening behind it large enough for a person to pass-through. Additionally I will hang a series of gouache drawings in the corridor gallery which will extend the experience achieved in the closed off gallery.

The experience of participant/viewer passing through the openings behind the paintings is intended to mimic the moment when the journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered his country’s embassy in Turkey, never to leave alive. This installation explores how an institutional structure or building can betray our expectations and collective understanding of its purpose and function.

For the gouache drawings that will compliment the installation I chose to represent the colleagues, compatriots and fellow dissidents that Khashoggi tried to speak out about and help, some of who are currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia by MBS (Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, as part of his brutal crack down on critical voices. I view the Khashoggi murder as an act involving two players, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, one commits the crime and the other fails to act against this crime. Thus I have created two canvases for two walls inside the Clifford Gallery. The dynamic that animates this relationship between these two players is driven by commerce, pure and simple. For the gouache drawings I then decided to guide my imagery based on the kind of imagery that comes up when one does an Internet search for images using the key words “corporate achievement”. Added to this I looked at insignias, emblems and flags within both country’s various governmental departments, agencies and branches and all together began to create imagery that was mostly symmetrical, often incorporates pyramids, stars, laurels and birds. A simple online search for information regarding the kind of Saudi nationals that Khashoggi would have tried to alert the world about landed me on a Wikipedia page listing 25 Saudi dissidents. For me this would be where Khashoggi left off and where I could begin, reading and learning about a culture whose resources we hunger after, yet whose society we hardly understand.

Each drawing then is titled to represent a Saudi dissident listed on that Wikipedia page. Rather than creating illustrations that might depict the specifics of each individual’s story I chose to build generic compositions based on all the core elements mentioned above and also filter in some of my own ongoing motifs such as tornadoes, arteries, strata, surveillance cameras and feathers. Common throughout many of the tableaux are the two prime power brokers depicted as emblematic twitter birds, posturing and preening within their sheltered heraldic realms, while meanwhile the world futilely looks toward them for answers to the calculated and gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi and ongoing harassment of dissident voices.