Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Islamic Project: Oasis


Islamic Project: Oasis
Claire Oliver Fine Art, New York

June 17-July 23, 2005

Despite what looks to be the timely pertinence of the AES Group’s Islamic Project: Oasis, exhibited at Claire Oliver Fine Art in New York June 17–July 23, the most important fact to keep in mind is that 2006 marks the project’s ten-year anniversary. Recent history has catapulted the works from what could have been understood as heavy-handed imagery to something that now feels far more prophetic. The three Russian artists—Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, and Evgeny Svatsky—who make up the AES Group explain that the project “is neither anti- nor pro-Islamic; it is a grotesque expression of phobias and radical plans from both parties . . . an attempt to embody the collective unconscious in shocking images.”

Conceived in two stages, the mock “AES travel agency to the future” reworked iconic postcard images to depict a hybrid of capitalist centers of culture and commerce and Islamic iconography: the Statue of Liberty’s face is now shielded behind a birka, her hands grasping the Koran; the façade of Paris’s Pompidou Centre is reworked and draped with Oriental carpets; the Sydney Opera House is reconfigured with turrets. The second stage of the project, Oasis, presents the images as silk-screen prints on fabric, set into quilted panels that form the walls of a bedouin tent. Since their creation a decade ago, many of these images have found wide circulation on the Internet, as demonstration posters in the United Kingdom, and even as anonymously printed postcards. According to Claire Oliver Fine Art, the group is not troubled by this third-party appropriation of their imagery but instead finds this circulation evidence of the wider role that art can play outside conventional centers of artistic appreciation.

At the Chelsea venue, the experiential aspect of Oasis—viewers were invited to enter the bedouin tent and consider the wall hangings while seated on the cushioned and carpeted floor, complete with hookah and Arabic music—veered into territory that seemed to contribute to, rather than clarify, the sense of miscommunication between East and West. The floor was strewn with rag rugs rather than finely woven carpets, and viewers were not asked to remove their shoes before entering this seemingly private space, a cultural gaffe reminiscent of the infamous food drop by American troops of the quintessentially American delicacy of peanut butter and jelly over Afghanistan. The point is made, but like the pictures themselves, the simulacrum is not convincing. Then again, I suspect that it was never intended to be.

FiberArts Magazine (2005: 60)