The title of an article in the January 22, 2023 New Yorker caught my eye: A Raucous Assault: How the Iranian Artist Tala Madini sees Men – and Women.
It was riveting because, to be quite honest, I did not know the meaning of raucous. Now I do, and so shall you (if you did not already know). It is making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise. Synonyms are: strident, screeching, squawky, sharp, grating, discordant, dissonant, inharmonious, jarring, brassy; rough, rasping, hoarse, scratchy; noisy, loud, piercing, shrill, ear-splitting, penetrating, clamorous, cacophonous. Antonyms are soft and dulcet.
I have read most of the article. But do have to admit that I do not comprehend what RAUCOUS had to do with the extremely talented woman. She has led an amazing life, pushed boundaries, was adventurous, and brave, speaking out with her art but the art did not make a disturbingly harsh or loud noise. Not at all ear-splitting, loud or squawky. She paints, doubt that her brushes make a grating, rough, or rasping noise.
I identified with her expressed sentiments in the final paragraph. Madini, born in 1981, now lives near L.A. with her husband and two children. “ I find my life quite ordinary,” she said. “ I need the ordinary at this point. Its almost like my life growing up was so extremely rich that I still am processing it. I need the calm in order to process the strangeness.”
I definitely identified with needing an ordinary life, my need will be described later. Her unique circumstances added particular poignancy to the concluding sentence of the story. “I’ll tell you something else,” she added. When this revolution comes to fruition, the weight of history, of the problems present at my birth, would be lifted, and I could truly be happy just being an artist.”
Madini was born in Iran, but at the age of 13 she left Tehran to live in Monmouth, Oregon, a town of six thousand people. It was a bit of a culture shock. Her parents were divorced, her mother left Iran enrolling in Western Oregon University, where an uncle was a professor.
Madini initially did not speak English, felt most isolated, turned to art for solace. “But what got her through those first years in Oregon was drawing.” “But I think coming to America was what made me an artist,” Madini told me. I did not have any friends, I was bored, and I just drew and drew and drew.”
She did not identify with, nor integrate into, the US in her early years. For a long time, she had “one foot in art and the other in Iran.” Her first painting teacher at Western Oregon University thought that she was ‘born to paint.” After graduating from there she was accepted at Yale. “Yale changed everything.” Her work evolved, “letting go of everything she learned academically. I understood the difference between making an image of something and trying to embody something—that was the key. My paintings became looser. Without the add ons.”
This a rather surprising addition to her art., she began to combine humor and art. “I also became very interested in humor. It hadn’t occurred to me before—I hadn’t understood humor at all…It’s odd, because in Iran the way you deal with reality” It was at Yale she painted “Caked” and plunged gleefully into her raucous assault on machismo.”
Hmmm. So that was where raucous came into the picture. (Hahaha???) An illustration of a 2006 work “Bouquet” had this caption. “Her first great subject was the absurdity of machismo.” The author of the lengthy revealing article is Calvin Tomkins. Machismo described as strong and aggressive masculine pride. The synonyms are not pretty: aggressive masculinity macho, toughness, toxic masculinity, chauvinism, male chauvinism, sexism, laddishness. It is impossible to confront toxic masculinity, male chauvinism and laddishness by being soft and dulcet – the antonyms of raucous. So perhaps Tomkins use of the term is appropriate after all.
Back to Tala Madini, the fascinating topic of the moment. After Yale, “feeling she needed more time of figure things out,” she was accepted an artistic residence in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, it included a two year stint in Rijks, Amsterdam. It was here she met her husband, Nathaniel Mellons, a British artist.
At this time she made her second trip back to Iran she observed and was appalled by the treatment of women. “The treatment of women in Iran ‘always played heavy on her mind.” “Women are second class citizens there, in terms of inheritance laws, Divorce laws, and not being equal to men in when testifying in court.”….”The Islamic Republic has defined itself in opposition to Western values, and much of its identity is based on controlling women.”
Her fame in the following years has grown exponentially. Her exhibitions have spanned the world, receiving rave reviews and much respect. A Times critic purred, concluding…”This terrific show stirs optimism about the future of painting.” The Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art is currently home to her first major museum show. She observes the growing crisis in Iran for the USA, with rapt attention and concern.
My life in no way resembles the life of this extremely creative and talented woman. I was bon in Saskatchewan, not Iran, now living in the land of my birth where women (other than Indigenous women) are not treated entirely as second class citizens. I have no husband (s), no kids, cannot even draw, no graduate degrees from Yale, no longer live in California. But we both share a sense of humor, both are concerned about the treatment of women and both of us are content to be living an ordinary life.
The complexities of my early life could not be described as rich but I do need, as she does, some calm to process the strangeness of recent years. I finally seem to have it. A simple, humble existence unless I again venture out into the world meeting up with some adventure or another. But do, laughingly, admit that this calm is newly discovered, arriving Christmas Eve 2022, upon my return from Saudi Arabia, the trip of a lifetime, a pilgrimage to Mecca and Madinah.
Last Saturday was an example of an ordinary life. Hopping, skipping, jumping to the Alberta Legislative Building which is practically next door to my apartment building. A tour led by an able young woman. I was so proud of my province, it honors the past, the heritage, their heroes. Two shall be pictured. The first, a statute of Chief Crowfoot, proudly displayed in the foyer. His diplomacy led to his role as the primary negotiator for Treaty 7, the agreement between the federal government and the first Nations of the region which the federal government considered the Northwest Territories at the time. Treaty 7 was signed on September and December 1877.
The painting is The Honorable Ralph G. Steinhauer, Alberta’s Governor General from 1974-1979. He was the first person of Indigenous Heritage to be appointed Lieutenant Governor in Canada, choosing to wear native dress for the portrait. He was a founding member of the Alberta Wheat Pool and was active in politics and Aboriginal affairs.
It is with enormous gratitude and pride that I introduce to you the present Lt. Governor of Alberta. She is The Honorable Salma Lakhani. Wikipedia informs us of her uniqueness.
The lieutenant governor of Alberta is the viceregal representative in Alberta of the Canadian monarch, King Charles III. The lieutenant governor is appointed in the same manner as the other provincial viceroys in Canada and is similarly tasked with carrying out most of the monarch’s constitutional and ceremonial duties.
Salma Lakhani is the current lieutenant governor. On 26 August 2020, she was installed as the 19th lieutenant governor, becoming the first South Asian and Muslim in Canadian history to hold the role. She was born Uganda, is a Muslim woman.
I was so happy to learn of her appointment to that exhaled position when I returned to Canada in May 2022. Happy because I am a woman, and because I am a (recent) Muslim. I doubt that Tala Madini will be able to return to Iran to see a woman in the role of such authority, status and responsibility. It is not the Islamic faith that has reduced Iranian women to their lowly status – it is the Iranian government of machismo men. In the long distant past the women of Persia had rights and privileges not envisioned even now in this modern world.
While in the midst of writing this blog, the myth of my rather ordinary life was dealt a blow. I received an Instagram voice message from a man I sat next to on a Saudi airline. Our communication a bit limited as I only speak English, he did not. But we were able to become friends on Instagram. He is a world famous jockey, Ahmed A. Al-Shrar.
Me: So good to see your victories! I thought we had lost touch with each other. Yeah for you. ????
He: (voice message in English) Thank you! Thank you! I like it. Thank you.
Me: You are welcome. You are welcome! Thank you! Bye now.
I sent him the selfie of he and I.
His most recent photo shows a most happy group of Arab men and boys with the following information.
Owner: Sheikh Abdullah Hamoud A-Sabah.
Distance: 1600 m
It was on my Umrah pilgrimage, flying between Riyadh and Jeddah, when I met a world famous jockey, he remembered me and we exchange voice messages and emojis. That is not exactly ordinary for an almost eighty year old woman born in Saskatchewan. So much for the calm of the ordinary life