Born 1978, Quetta, Pakistan. Lives and works Sydney.
The Arrival of Demons 2017
ink, gold leaf, synthetic polymer paint, gouache
Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2016
Supported by Veolia Environmental Services
The MCA Foyer Wall Commission is an ongoing program of wall works commissioned for the Circular Quay foyer. The Museum works with artists to realise new, temporary artworks that respond to this unique dimensions, location and history of this site.
Similar to the demon-like figures that populate much of the artist’s work, these characters, based on the hero Rostam from the tenth-century epic poem Shahnama/The Book of Kings, can embody both good and evil but here appear without wings, giving them a more sage-like presence. Most stand, hands crossed over bellies, stroking beards or leaning on the stairs. One appears to sit, elbows on thighs, looking out to the entrance of the Museum and Circular Quay beyond, the site of the first British colony, the arrival of the first ‘boat people’. While the poses of the figures suggest interaction, their mouths are closed. There is no apparent conversation here. They simply wait.
Flanking a staircase, the 15-by-seven-metre mural depicts the figures on a threshold, in some form of in-between space neither here nor there. They are backed by a wall of fiery red, licked with gold flame. Sprouts of resonant green curl up from the base of the work, immediately before and to the side of the figures, weaving into the same green as their clothing. Above them hangs a canopy of golden eucalypt foliage.
This pictorial construction is partly drawn from the illustrations that ghost the pages of the Australian passport, a document Ali, as a member of the Hazara community from Central Afghanistan, received only in 2015 after having lived in Australia since 2009. Images of apparently typical Australian subjects populate these pages, framed by overhanging native foliage that, as Ali describes, has the effect of separating the viewer from the scene before them. On receiving his Australian passport, Ali was struck by the way in which these images cast him as a viewer in a manner akin to his experience as a migrant – sat at the fringes, barely visible, peering in through the foliage upon scenarios to which he would possibly never truly belong.
This experience is both amplified and inverted in The Arrival of Demons. In a work drawing on his training in both miniature painting in Pakistan and mural painting and calligraphy in Iran, and created in paint and gold leaf applied directly to the wall over a number of weeks with the aid of assistants, the viewer is positioned looking out upon the wall from the public space of the Museum Foyer, confronting the figures at the fringes, massive and impossible to miss as they wait.
Born of Afghan Hazara parentage, Khadim Ali grew up on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Ali became an Australian citizen in 2015 and is currently based in Blacktown, Western Sydney.
Director, Curatorial & Digital
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia