Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Néjib Belkhodja | Le Ciel Etait Rouge

Please allow me to introduce you to one of the worlds most important artists, Néjib Belkhodja. Néjib died in 2007 but his work is very much alive. This painting has as much resonance today as it had in time of the first Iraqi War in 1991, Le ciel était rouge, 91. (The red sky). Najet, his charming wife, told me that whilst Néjib was painting this work he had a nightmare. He spent months trying to work out the right colour for the central space. He tried out numerous ideas and the nightmare was that if the central space was any other colour than purist white then the walls would crumble and fall. Néjib was a true humanitarian and through his art we can see one of the clearest visual voices ever. In this time of trouble over Iraq and the fighting in Gaza no other artist could have given the world a clearer or simple yet sensitive message. Nejib appears to be prophetic as it is now that this very purity, this pivotal piece, becomes the essential glue for ensuring that the structure of the Middle East does not disintegrate wholeheartedly.

I read from his collection of books in his front room and was introduced to the Chilian poet, Pablo Neruda who was an inspiration to Nejib throughout his life. I have accompanied this painting with the words of Neruda poem, "In Spite of Wrath".

Le Ciel Etait Rouge | 1991

In Spite of Wrath

Corroded helmets, dead horseshoes!

But through the fire and the horseshoe
as from a wellspring illuminated
by murky blood,
along with the metal thrust home in the holocaust
a light fell over the earth:
number, name, line and structure

Pages of water, clear power
of murmuring tongues, sweet drops
worked like clusters,
platinum syllables in the tenderness
of dew-streaked breasts,
and a classic diamond mouth
gave its snowy brilliance to the land

In the distance the statue asserted
its dead marble,
and in the spring
of the world, machinery dawned.

Technique erected its dominion
and time became speed and a flash
on the banner of the merchants.
Moon of geography
that discovered plant and planet
extending geometric beauty
in its unfolding movement.
Asia handed up its virginal scent.
Intelligence, with a frozen thread,
followed behind blood, spinning out the day.
The paper called for the distribution of the naked honey
kept in the darkness.

A pigeon-house
flight was flushed from the painting
in sunset-cloud-red and ultramarine blue.
And the tongues of men were joined
in the first wrath, before song.

Thus; with the sanguinary
titan of stone,
infuriated falcon,
came not blood but wheat.

Light came despite the daggers.

Taken from "Selected Poems" by Pablo Neruda

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