note_15 On Maria Gabriela Llansol’s The Geography of Rebels in Graz; locating a nonviolent image…


From the Portuguese original of Llansol’s Geography of Rebels

In lieu of writing critically about Maria Gabriela Llansol’s first ever publication in English; The Geography of Rebels, from Houston’s Deep Vellum, I’m posting this sly reference (below, plus). However, as I said re Mallo, these and some of 2019’s forthcoming books (mostly in translation), call out for serious, passionate, engaged, authoritative responses from writers. I hear the call and am going to be responding again after a long interlude.

Spend a life attempting to capture the resistant poetics of your existence (what/why else?) and you do gain special access to other writing. You’ll see right through most of it, but locate what magic there is, know and observe or instinctively recognise how it is done. It’s all in the writing. If you make original sentences or lines, then you know about each word, each in between, and all their potentialities.

Thus I detect a new Khaled Khalifa (Death is Hard Work: wow!), a forthcoming Vila-Matas, works on Mohamed Makiya or by Yasser Elsheshtawy (temporary cities in an Arabian context), but also intriguing books located more locally by E J Burnett, or Laura Beatty, etc. The call is urgent and easily matched by the urgent response that books pages call a review. Books pages tend to agree on what is important, especially viz work in translation, exceptions are treasured like monsoon rain. I almost always felt differently and it was a significant motivator in paying and generating attention to awkwardness, the resistant or ‘difficult’, complex or subtle, and the ‘foreign’ (work in translation not -generally- otherness filtered in English for the British market -who pull-up at all borders!). No apologies. Continue reading “note_15 On Maria Gabriela Llansol’s The Geography of Rebels in Graz; locating a nonviolent image…”

08.09. from makiya to bidoun, within without

Mohamed Makiya is a huge figure. There are partial accounts of him and his work in three books in English, two of them by his son and former colleague Kanan. Start with KM’s Post-Islamic Classicism, a Visual Essay published by Saqi, 2001. Then there is a curious and fascinating essay in Lawrence Weschler’s Calamities of Exile; Three Non-fiction Novellas, Chicago UP 1998. Lastly KM’s The Monument; Art and Vulgarity in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, California UP 1991 is a vital read and provides a variant approach to his father. Two other books in Arabic, one on MM’s early years, the other devoted to Baghdad, are helpful -the latter a glimpse at Makiya’s legendary archives on Baghdad and the region.

I knew some of his work and its context before I began, notably his brilliant and significant reconfiguration of the Khulafa or Suq al-Ghazal Mosque in central Baghdad and the massive Kuwait State Mosque. Nothing quite prepared me for the complex man, extraordinarily rich work and life that emerged from our conversations. My piece appeared in August and doesn’t resolve this or make up for the absence of a full monograph but it does present a rather different portrait than anything else in print.

Makiya’s life is part of the unwritten 20th Century, his work a monument to it -as well as many previous ones. I hope our conversation in Bidoun might provoke an attempt to show and tell the story of his work and life in full.

Meanwhile I’m posting some scans, including of Bidoun’s Contents page because it has so much in it that I really think you should buy a copy and/or subscribe.

Deeply Baghdadi


03.09. archiving the future; from doshi to makiya

In March I was asked to interview Mohamed Makiya, the great Iraqi architect of the modern period, for Bidoun magazine’s Summer Issue. There were many reasons to agree and I spent most of the month with Makiya, his work and his words, our conversations eventually being reduced to a 3-4000 word piece published in August 09.

Throughout I was reminded of Balkrishna Doshi, another great architect of the modern period who remains under-appreciated beyond the ‘warm world’. In 2002-03 I spent a significant amount of time with Doshi [in Ahmedabad, Gujarat] his work and words and have written about him in my forthcoming book about India’s most interesting state; A Gram of Gujarat.

It took many mentions of Doshi’s name before Makiya -now in his mid-90s- picked up on it, his hearing not as sharp as his mind.

MM ‘Ooh he’s a friend of mine! Yes!! [laughs very happily] He’s the best man, he was a very close friend, I supported him in every way. He produced a project with Corbusier I think at that time [late 1950s in Paris and Chandigarh but most significantly Ahmedabad -vanguard of Indian modernity]. But he’s one of my very close friends, who believes in my ideas. Amazing that you mention him! To me he’s a school of thought and he knows what I think of him …’

GMA Forgive me, but I think Doshi is a better architect than Charles Correa [MM had mentioned CC to me before, also with affectionate respect].

MM ‘Yes! of course, oh yes [laughs] … Yes, Doshi is a different scale.

GMA I think you and he-

MM Yes, Doshi is … a copy of me, more or less, in feeling, funny you mention him! How did you know him? He is the closest architect to me!’

This closeness is real enough and took me back to a conversation with Doshi at Sangath, his remarkable office built partly below ground on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. We were trying to invent a term for his architecture’s unique solution of the deeply indigenous with the subcontinent’s historical syncretism [he often compares Ahmedabad’s labyrinthine old city to Baghdad’s bazaars, for example] and the urgently -sexily/sleekly/intelligently- contemporary. An impossible challenge, but any such term would also describe the work of the “deeply Baghdadi” Makiya.

Both of these giant global figures are sophisticated architectural innovators who cite trees for inspiration. Doshi enjoys paradoxical upside-downs and inside-outs, continuities and cosmology. Makiya describes the Iraqi palm as a perfectly structured dwelling, a “blessing from God”. With both, I’ve found myself archiving the future as the world turns and our new century re-orientates us all to the East again. It’s a notion that anyone familiar with or influenced by their work understands instinctively.

Neither MM nor I were aware of a documentary film being made about Doshi last year. For more information check its makers’ lovely blog which includes stills, clips and promise of a dvd. The figure that Doshi cuts in the clips below is familiar to me; notably articulate about his work and world, great riffs! -and can be researched through his office website here. There are two well illustrated books on Doshi -now in his mid-80s- from the end of the 20th Century. The best of them is by William JR Curtis; BD An Architecture for India, Rizzoli NY 1988. However, it’s out of print, a quarter of a century out of date and requires a follow-on volume to begin to do Doshi justice.

I’m linking to 2 clips made a couple of years apart, which only slightly overlap. The first [on Vimeo] is the more recent, includes Graham Morrison [Allies and Morrison] and footage towards the end of the stunning complex at Sarkhej -a 15th Century legacy of the Sultan of Gujarat- one of Doshi’s inspirations. The second includes Yatin Pandya and Rajeev Kathpalia, and footage of the Gufa/cave-like structure which Doshi designed for the great charismatic artist [Maqbool Fida] Hussain, now in exile. In both, Doshi speaks from inside his own office at Sangath, hands resting on a table that is level with the ground outside.

Doshi from Premjit Ramachandran on Vimeo.