Tala Madani’s painted canvases and animations conjure up enigmatic scenes, often populated by anonymous, bald men. These men appear as if on stage where, apparently unconcerned about whether they are being watched, they laugh at each other, touch each other, paint each other, and even torment each other.
Masculinity is deconstructed in Madani’s work. She breaks down preconceived roles and stereotypes to explore power structures and the construction of male identity. The men in her painting and animations enact pitiable, compulsive violations on their flabby, ageing bodies. Humour punctuates the tension of these awkward situations, but laughter is never a simple release in Madani’s work: comedy and humiliation uncomfortably coexist.
Madani’s cast of characters was exclusively male until 2013, when she embarked upon two new and distinct bodies of work: the Peter and Jane series and the Pussy Paintings. The Peter and Jane series recounts the didactic exploits of the children from the Ladybird Learn to Read books, produced in Britain and exported around the world, including to Iran during Madani’s childhood in the 1980s. In Madani’s versions of the illustrations, errant bodily fluids and miniature men invade illustrations of the exploits of white middle-class children.
Madani’s Pussy Paintings on the other hand, depict a young girl who leans back with her legs splayed in allusion to Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, 1866. Two loosely painted bald men huddle beneath her, craning their necks to leer up her skirt. The girl is silkscreened, while the men are painted in oils, thereby implicitly locating the figures in different planes.
The Corner Paintings, a series of diptychs begun 2018, are Madani’s most cinematic works to date. The paintings variously depict projectors and lamps, which, directed from one canvas into the other, create screens of light against which events can unfold.
Madani received her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2006. Current solo shows include: Tala Madani, Vienna Secessions, Vienna (2019) and Mam Project 027: Tala Madani, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2019). Forthcoming shows include: Radical Figures: painting in the New Millennium, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2020). Selected solo shows include: Oven Light, Portikus, Frankfurt (2019), Lewben Art Foundation Playlist for Mo Museum “Lewben Playlist for Mo”, MO Museum, Vilnius (2018); Tala Madani, La Panacée, Montpellier (2017); First Light, organised in collaboration with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (curated by Henriette Huldisch, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center, and Kelly Shindler, Associate Curator, CAM St. Louis), MIT Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (2016); Tala Madani, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville (2014); Tala Madani, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham (2014); Rip Image, Moderna Museet Malmö & Stockholm (2013); The Jinn, Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam (2011). Selected group exhibitions include: (X) A Fantasy, David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2017); Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017); Made Masculine, Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire, New Hampshire (2017); National Gallery of Victoria Triennial, Melbourne (2017); The Great Acceleration: Art in the Anthropocene, Taipei Biennial (curated by Nicholas Bourriaud), Taipei (2014); Made in L.A. 2014, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2014); Where are we Now?, 5th Marrakech Biennale, Marrakech (2014); PLAY! Recapturing the Radical Imaginiation, Göteborg Biennial, Göteborg (2013); The Future Generation Art Prize@Venice 2013, Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice (2013); New works 13.1, Artpace, San Antonio (2013); Speech Matters, Danish Pavilion at the 54th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venice (2011); The Great New York, MoMA PS1, New York (2010); 4th Tirana International Contempoary Art Biennial, Tirana (2009); Greater New Younger than Jesus, New Museum, New York (2009).
Madani was awarded the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting (2013), the De Volkskrant Art Award (2012), shortlisted for the Future Generation Art Prize, Pinchuk Art Centre (2012), the Van den Berch van Heemstede Stichting Fellowship (2008), and the Kees Verwey Fellowship (2007). She was artist in residence at the British School of Rome (2010), and The Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam (2007).
Tala Madani lives and works in Los Angeles.