Without her, all is lost to chaos. She is meticulous. She seeks order in every facet of her work. Today, she carries the modern title of ‘Executive Assistant’, but artist Ghadah Alkandari still identifies her as the Secretary. The secretary’s world, with all of its mundane simplicities, comes to life in a celebration unlike no other. Renowned for her affinity for storytelling through her journal-based drawings, regularly seen on her blog prettygreenbullet.com, Alkandari’s Secretary is poised to present a detailed visual account grouped into three main installations, and we’re invited to partake.
As a prelude to the unveiling of Secretary, we initially wished to get up close and personal with the artist, only to find our team’s creative energies intertwine with Alkandari’s presentation. We became a part of her journey and a part of the artist’s process, only to find that a secretary’s job is, indeed, never done.
Alkandari’s paintings have already been interpreted in every which way; the brush strokes analyzed as raw and straightforward, the use of color powerful and poignant, and they mostly feature ‘her women’. Their resilience was exemplified in The Yellow Tape Portraits (2008-09) and their unabashed playfulness was shown to the world in Stories of Eves (2010-2011). The artist, however, doesn’t necessarily care for anyone’s opinion. When she paints, she is king; “Painting is a safe place for me. When I paint or draw, I feel great. I look at my older work and it inspires me to continue.”
Beyond the canvases, paintbrushes and her valuable sketchbooks, Alkandari’s daily musings are on display on her blog prettygreenbullet.com. This online space allows us to clearly witness her canny ability to merge between the realms of writing and drawing and we’re also given the option to further engage the artist in an open dialogue about her work, intrinsically becoming a part of her story via this interaction. Alkandari’s journals are not just journals; they are a part of her storytelling process and any body of work that she progressively creates. Everything stems out of experiences and she visualizes them on paper, canvas or whatever captivates this artist’s attention.
Alkandari acknowledges a controlling part of her personality when it comes to her work. Her installations, however, shed a completely different light on the artist’s evolutionary process, where she detaches herself from the body of work presented to the viewers. She said, “A big part of being able to create, is witnessing how people interact with your work, and how the work evolves and changes at the actual showing while having people there. How do they change it? How do they change? I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I see these reactions.” This began with the extremely personal installation, Heart and the Gutting (2008), where Alkandari’s display of paper bags filled with daily notes that she prepared for seven months, involved people opening these dated bags and then tacking their contents onto a corkboard. This interaction is once again prominent in Kiss & Cut (2013), where both exhibitions stem from a place of sadness and mourning.
Most recently, Alkandari was invited by Doha’s Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art’s Project Space to take up a residency, whereby she worked alongside the research-based curator Ala Younis, to merely exist as ‘the girl in a box’. During this time, Alkandari shed the realities of the everyday and took up a bare white room as her canvas. She said, “I loved working with Ala, she is incredible and I learned a lot from her on how to go beyond how I think. This helped me to structure my thought process, and a methodology was formed in my mind to manifest my surreal sketches to life, allowing visitors to interact with objects included in my sketchbooks such as the suspended milk carton and cup.” Alkandari worked tirelessly, testing her artistic boundaries. What began as a residency for the artist, evolved into an exhibition for museumgoers, as working in this space was part of the residency, “The space was my home for a week. I worked, sketched and blogged – nonstop.”
Alkandari counts her ability to deliver these different facets of art, whether on her blog, paintings or installations, as a blessing. Otherwise, the artist would feel deprived of expression, eventually “shutting down.” Ever since Heart and the Gutting (2008), and most recently encouraged by her residency experience in Doha’s Mathaf, Alkandari loved how people interacted with her work, and she promises yet another experience that is true to her emotions at the upcoming show, Secretary.
As far as Alkandari is concerned, the conscious decision to base the premise of her upcoming show on the role of the secretary began about two years ago, and was instigated by her use of carbon paper coupled by the artist’s love for office supplies. A trip to Mogahwi’s stationary store, a place where one can still find old ledger books and retro office supplies, awakened a sense of yearning in the artist. She stated, “I suddenly relived an old desire of mine to work in a ministry, carefully writing down people’s names in huge books.”
With Secretary, expect to see beauty in the mundane, an interpretation by Alkandari as an ode to the secretary of yesterday. Finding old office supplies excited the artist, and she went on to draw the women she imagined by utilizing these items as a central aspect of their quotidian lives. You will find her women, with their perfectly arched eyebrows and facial expressions bearing various emotions, appear and disappear in all of these office supplies.
With layer upon layer of repetition, they are all different yet similar. She imagined their stories and their observations, and became entwined with these fascinating women and their meticulously detailed lives.
On calling the show Secretary, she knowingly chose the term for what it stands for. “If I were one, I would want to be called a secretary, and nothing else.” The term, in and of itself, is old fashioned and echoes with Alkandari’s nostalgic inclinations.
Alkandari’s interaction with different textures of paper, paints, pencils and her incorporation of carbon paper produces many of what she likes to call, happy accidents, that are inherent to her process. She allows for unplanned smudges and smears, and even the occasional appearance of the renowned ‘Eve’.
Our October cover, for instance, showcases a different manifestation of this body of work, and another happy accident, where Alkandari’s prominent ‘Eve’ character photobombs a woman holding a leash that is attached to an old typewriter. This month’s cover adds another dimension to the upcoming exhibition, yet easily blends in with bazaar’s identity and tendency to utilize images that are both interpretative and covetable.
Once Alkandari began organizing this ongoing body of work, the notion for the installation beckoned her to produce more as she found herself craving a sense of efficiency. She said, “I actually wish someone were to teach me how to organize things. Secretarial work always has a solution, as it is administrative at the core. There are different methods, but they are all proven to be successful and efficient.” The body of work, however, is not complete until people become a part of the artist’s final story. The story will continue to evolve up until the exhibition is due to commence on October 21st.
Her repurposing of outdated office supplies is simply where all the fun begins – for the artist, this bazaar team, as well as whoever visits the upcoming exhibition. Alkandari concluded, “People finish what you start. You could initially work at home, feel like your work has served its purpose, and then you share it with the world.”
up close and personal questionnaire
What do you most value in your friends?
A really good sense of humor. And it’s important that they like to eat.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sitting in a hotel room after a long day at the pool, waiting for my room service to arrive.
What is your greatest fear?
Going blind or my teeth falling out.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I overanalyze things.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
People who take themselves too seriously.
Which living person do you most admire?
Any living person I admire is probably dead.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My periodic long-weekend trips to the English countryside.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
According to my sister, it’s ‘honestly’. And she’s right. Honestly.
What is it that you most dislike?
Trends and cultural references to my work.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the piano.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
I love my blog. It’s not a great achievement but it’s everything I’ve ever done in the past five years!
What is your most treasured possession?
My sketchbooks and journals.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My imagination. It comes in handy when I’m working but tends to get me in trouble in real life.
Where would you most like to live?
What are your favorite words to live by?
I don’t have a motto, but I always try to remember the positive things about myself, because by default I am the world’s biggest pessimist.
Born in Delhi in 1969, Kuwaiti artist Ghadah Alkandari received a BA in Mass Communications from the American University in Cairo in 1992. She has produced various bodies of work that range from large-scale acrylic paintings, primarily figurative, exploring the wide spectrum of human emotion and familial complexities, to smaller, intimate and surreal pen and ink drawings detached and focused on everyday happenings. She had several solo exhibitions in Kuwait, and participated in various group exhibitions such as the “Arab Culture in Diaspora” exhibition in Kuwait and “Femmes Artistes Du Koweit” at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (2006). Since 2009, Alkandari uses her blog ‘prettygreenbullet’ as a platform to display her work on a daily basis.
Secretary by Ghadah Alkandari will showcase at The Sultan Gallery on October 21st. For more information about the artist, visit www.ghadahalkandari.com. For her daily musings, you can check out her blog www.prettygreenbullet.com. Follow her on Instagram @PrettyGreenBullet, and if you’re missing the infamous ‘Eve’, check out @Stories_of_eves.