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The visual literature of Babi Badalov
la-litterature-plasticienne-de-babi-badalov - ARTACTIF
June 2024 | Reading time: 21 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the retrospective “Babi Badalov. Xenopoetri” visible until April 28 at the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne (Switzerland).

He is nicknamed the “xenopoet”. Unless it’s him who calls himself that? From the prefix of Greek origin, xeno, used to express the notion of foreigner or foreignness. A multidisciplinary artist from Azerbaijan, a refugee in Paris where he obtained political refugee status after years of wandering, Babi Badalov is known for his poetic and political work, his works of art for sale, paintings on canvas and on fabric, artists' books, now using language and writing as a means of expression. He is also famous for his performances, drawings and installations, in which he explores themes such as identity, migration, and contemporary politics. Presented in numerous exhibitions and artistic events around the world, his work is currently particularly well highlighted at the cantonal museum of fine arts of Lausanne (MCBA), which is devoting a major retrospective to him since February and until April 28. But I also invite you to take a trip to Transpalette – Contemporary Art Center in Bourges (18), which is showing until May 5 a fifteen-meter-long fresco created by Babi Badalov for a collective exhibition around the group punk black Berurier.

“Babi Badalov. Xenopoetri” is the first monographic exhibition dedicated to the work of Babi Badalov in Switzerland. It was Pierre-Henri Foulon, recently appointed to the position of curator for contemporary art, who entrusted the artist with the MCBA project space, on the ground floor. “Badalov designed a huge manifesto on site combining calligraphies on the wall and paintings on fabrics,” writes Anne-Cécile Sanchez in the April issue of L’Oeil magazine. “The abundant writing thus covers the architecture in small blocks of meaning like a giant collage. The legs of the letters sometimes extend into figures, grafting the drawing onto the alphabet to compose graphic landscapes. The ornamental intersects with the conceptual, alphabets (Cyrillic, Latin, Persian, Russian, etc.) and lexicons hybridizing in an almost organic way. »

Both writing and drawing, the artist's visual poetry explores the political and poetic possibilities of language. Words constitute the foundation of Babi Badalov's work, unfolding like an immense collage where the languages and alphabets which form the basis of his complex identity intertwine. Born in 1959 in Azerbaijan, the artist grew up at the crossroads of Azeri, Persian and Soviet cultures. Now based in Paris after a succession of exiles which led him to explore the St. Petersburg underground of the 1980s, the art scene of San Francisco and New York in the early 1990s and the United Kingdom in the 1990s. 2000, he nonetheless retains the feeling of being forever a stranger.

Dissecting language in its most concrete aspect – the letter, the syllable – Badalov reinvents a language which is as much a refuge as a terrain of struggle. Its jungle of words is at first glance inextricable. And that’s exactly what we like. As evidenced by the title of the exhibition, he most often proceeds through free phonetic association in an approach reminiscent of certain Dadaist strategies. Once essential in the conceptual articulation of Dada, the anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin and the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche remain important references for Badalov. Anchored in the experience of oppression, rejection and marginality, his work of art nevertheless attempts to reconstruct a horizontal utopia in which everyone is invited to free themselves from systems of domination.

There is a circularity at work in the media he uses, whether it is the recycled fabrics on which he paints or the everyday elements that he gleans in order to integrate them into monumental collages. This attention to the things around us testifies to a deeply curious, sensitive but also critical look towards his time. “In France, we have already seen Badalov's graphic compositions and semantic games on a large scale, at the Palais de Tokyo, where the artist took over four sections of walls in 2016 as part of the Works in situ/Anémochories program,” we recalls Anne-Cécile Sanchez in the magazine L'Oeil, hinting in passing that following the opening of the Swiss exhibition, it could well be that Babi Badalov adorns the tarpaulin of the future major construction site which will close the Center Pompidou in Paris from next year.

“Becoming president of the Parisian art center, Guillaume Désanges, with his accomplice at the time, the exhibition curator François Piron, played a key role in the recognition of Babi Badalov’s work in France. Both thus invented for the Azeri artist a critical apparatus celebrating "the way in which the non-mastery of a language reinvents our relationships to knowledge, but also to others and to the world, in the mode of strangeness, of 'otherness and poetry'. Guillaume Désanges also invited Badalov for an exhibition at La Verrière, the art space of the Fondation Hermès in Brussels, in 2019, as part of the “Matière à bander” cycle. »

Seeing how Babi Badalov sees language as a means of exploring complex and contemporary issues, while engaging the viewer to think about the world around them, one will inevitably think of Jenny Holzer, this American artist known for her textual works and his installations using phrases and words to explore social and political themes. But also to Barbara Kruger, also an American artist, recognized for her striking collages combining photography and text, questioning questions of power, gender and consumption. Or to Lawrence Weiner, an American artist associated with the conceptual art movement, who often uses simple words and phrases to create works of art that are both poetic and political. Not forgetting Tracey Emin, a British artist famous for her personal and expressive use of language and autobiography in her works, exploring themes such as intimacy, sexuality and vulnerability. Nor Alfredo Jaar, a Chilean artist known for his installation and photographic works that address social and political issues, often using language as a central element of his pieces.

When Jean-Max Colard, head of the Word/Culture and Creation Department of the Center Pompidou, sees in Babi Badalov one of the representatives of what he calls “visual literature”, he wants to talk about “a literature which does not does not necessarily aim at the book as the terminus of literary creation (…), which spreads on the walls of an exhibition, on the canvases of painters. Obviously, Badalov's contemporary art resonates perfectly with the contemporary migration crisis. Obviously, it comes at the right time in museums which are just starting to take an interest in this state of the world which makes the headlines, “through artistic practices defined by the experience of heartbreak and economy of means” , as the journalist from L'Oeil magazine so rightly reminds us. Obviously, the contemporary art market is not likely to miss out.

There is no doubt that writing has finally become the only country of the man who truly worships Jean Genet and who has Pasolini's face tattooed on his hand, two poetic and radical incarnations of marginality.


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

Photos: MCBA, Etienne Malapert

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