Painted in 2008 on an epic scale, Ali Banisadr's In the Name Of is a chaotic, dream-like vision meticulously rendered in a rich palette of reds and oranges. From a God's-eye view as implied by the title, Banisadr presents an irregular, geometric expanse reminiscent of a circus tent or stained glass window, descending into an alluringly energetic melee of humanity throbbing in and out of focus. In the Name Of was exhibited in 2009 at Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, Saatchi Gallery, London. Banisadr's monumental triptych Fravashi will also be featured in the exhibition Love Me, Love Me Not at the 55th Biennale di Venezia this year.
The dystopian scene presented by In the Name Of is punctuated with figures in mid-air, clowns, one ominously hung from a tree. Banisadr's Bacchanalian scene oscillates between violence and pleasure, the narrative element emerging from the process of painting itself. Combining abstract brushwork and an assured gesturality, Banisadr allows the suggestion of figures and objects within the landscape to simultaneously emerge and recede. Upon closer inspection, stories dissolve into a rhythm of colours and shapes, leaving an impression of decadent destruction that becomes less about individual figuration than the very impression of swarming movement; a narrative scene transforming into an abstract insurgence before one's eyes. This oscillation between human narrative and abstraction forms the core of Banisadr's practice.
Representing the residues of memories from his war-torn childhood in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, Banisadr's works are intended to be seen and heard. Banisadr moved to America at the age of 12, and his practice expresses his experience of belonging to two distinct cultures, both western and that of his native Iran. Strongly rhythmic, In the Name Of is from a period in the artist's practice when he was engaged with representing sound in his work, especially those sounds associated with war. When the artist visited the World War II site of the Normandy invasion in 2006, he 'felt it all looked so familiar to me, and I could not help thinking that I had seen it before. I had all these flashbacks from the time I was in Iran, the Iran-Iraq war, and the bombings. I remembered that I had seen similar things throughout my whole childhood, and I had never made any art about it, never written anything or talked about it. When I came back from France, I decided I was going to make these charcoal drawings based on the sound of explosions that I used to hear at night... thinking about the experiences in Iran has had a huge impact on the work I do now' (A. Banisadr, quoted in O. Sand, 'Profile: Ali Banisadr', Asian Art Newspaper, February 2011, pp. 4-5). Auditory expression abounds in In the Name Of: the fury of the battleground can almost be heard. With the brightly colored geometric background recalling stained glass windows, Banisadr explains that 'remembering the vibrations and shattering glass during the bombing led me to the idea of translating these sounds into images in my work' (A. Banisadr, quoted in M. Farzin, 'Profile: Clamour and Colour Ali Banisadr', in Canvas Magazine, September 2011, p. 139).
Rendering in paint the sights and sounds of his childhood memories, Banisadr's work has developed through a prism of art historical references from medieval imagery to abstract expressionism. The artist himself has avowed that the subject matter of his paintings 'is based on three things: the history of myself, the history of our century, and the history of art. These things aren't going to change much' (A. Banisadr, quoted in J. Beer, 'Conversation with the Unnamed: Ali Banisadr', Art-Rated, January 2012). Taking the universal truths surrounding power, corruption and belief systems captured by the art historical canon, Banisadr offers a history of painting with no moral lessons. In In the Name Of, Banisadr presents a crowded scene, a primeval struggle enacted in multiple episodes reminiscent of the Panathenaic processional friezes. Dwarfed by their surroundings, the figures populating the composition on first encounter are reminiscent of the frenzied expanses of Hieronymus Bosch or the opulent sixteenth-century illustrated manuscripts of the Perian national epic, the Shahnameh of Firdawsi. Conflating source inspiration from a wealth of religions and cultures as well as his own memories and experiences of war, Banisadr's scene is purposefully devoid of any didactic commentary, offering a contemporary world view for us to reflect upon.