London-based artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos talks about printers, abstraction, and breaking down propaganda in her solo Command: Print.
In her latest series of paintings, Remaining and Expanding, Khan-Dossos removes the content of ISIS’ online propaganda magazine Dabiq and breaks it down to simple form and colour. The 36 paintings are on view at Nome along with another series, The Printer Paintings.
What is the relationship between the two series in Command: Print?
There’s three years’ difference between The Printer Paintings and Remaining and Expanding. The Printer Paintings represent “pre-image” and Remaining and Expanding represents “post-image”. I’m really interested in household printers and the test sheets that the machine automatically creates to calibrate itself. I realized that the test page was itself an image, the potential of all possible images. I became really fascinated by the idea of potentiality in this pallet of CMYK and grey. Fast-forward three years and I’m still interested in the home printer and the idea of calibration. The ISIS magazine became my focus as it is designed as a PDF to be printed, not to be viewed online, and the magazine itself calibrates people politically. I bring the ISIS magazine to a place of “post-image” by taking away the figurative surface of the images and revealing the structures underneath. This opens up the idea of a human designing this object instead of just an “other” – because in its original form, Dabiq is a strange combination of horrific and boring.
Why engage with ISIS content at all?
When ISIS came on the scene two and a half years ago, they fascinated me, not only because they were in the media but also because they were able to bring the media around themselves and manipulate the message in a certain way. It seemed like a mirroring and heightening process where they were both responding to each other and inflating the situation. The tensions between the Middle East and the West have always been in the background of my work. I just feel very strongly that it’s something we need to confront – to think hard about how we got to this place of being fearful, and also how they’ve gotten to this place.
What sparked your interest in depicting these Middle Eastern-Western tensions?
So originally when I was studying art history at Cambridge it was a very traditional programme with a large emphasis on the Renaissance and stuff like that. But I actually felt very uncomfortable. It seemed everyone else had studied classical art for years, and I could closer relate Michelangelo and Leonardo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than to real art practices. I found the best way to approach Western art history was to come at it from different angles, like from the point of view of the Ottoman Empire. As I was studying the relationship between the East and the West in terms of classical art, the notions of neo-colonialism and Orientalism seemed to be playing out politically in my present with 9/11 happening when I was 19, and the British invasion of Iraq taking place a few months later when I was studying Arabic in Kuwait.
You studied Islamic art, and reference it in the geometric abstraction of your paintings – what drew you to it in the first place?
I just found it much more interesting than dealing with the Western canon. I think I’ve always been uncomfortable with making figurative art. I consider my work to be informative in an aniconic way, where the information is based on symbols and archetypes. I did my master’s in Islamic art practices – at times, I found it difficult to follow an artistic tradition where you aren’t asking questions but just making something for the glory of God, but I didn’t feel excluded not being Muslim.
Navine Khan-Dossos – Command: Print, Through Feb 10 | Nome Gallery, Friedrichshain