Armenian (but Cairo-born) artist Anna Boghiguian’s exhibition at Index in Stockholm is a meticulous installation that includes drawings, collage, handwritten wall texts, objects and cut-out figures ranging from clustered individuals to everyday scenes to transportation modes. The exhibition is the embodiment of one poetic narrative which highlights the evolution of American colonialism, including slave trade, industrialism, cultural progress and migration at its apex. Boghiguian is known to unpack and illustrate conflict, environmental collapse and urban decay, demanding that the viewer reconsider their direction from a more personalized angle. Her work is personal; she logs experience and perception via a text-and-image dichotomy – like diary pages displayed directly onto the walls and floors.
With so many paintings and drawings to examine, one might consider the entire installation as one singular piece, or zoom in on a smaller work which can be viewed separately. Because the exhibition is made of modular components which make up a larger whole, it is reminiscent of the way in which communities are structured. Yet, Boghiguian does not present a critical analysis of the interconnected forces of history or society; rather, she has chosen to pave an amorphous road via the introduction of new texts and corresponding visuals which suggest closer examination of the emotions and senses.
Upon first impression, the surrounding visuals and sculptural pieces in the center of the room take priority; for instance, cotton plant sculptures are displayed in an upright fashion, giving the feeling of being immersed in an alternate agricultural universe. Additionally, concentrated wall texts serve as visual counterpart offering obsessively scrawled poetry. Written in free-verse using short, clipped lines, the artist shares a condensed narrative related to power abuse, the wavering dynamic between freedom and tyranny, the enigma of jazz and blues, as well as pointed critical questions which attempt to unpack key decisions and unjust treatment. Certain lines have taken on a straightforward tone which is useful when relaying facts and historical circumstances – especially, in comparison to select excerpts which could be considered more literary.
Boghiguian’s images are rough yet crafted in such a way that one is able to detect a spontaneous, organic sentiment which reflects the artist’s nomadic outlook on creativity; her hands-on methodology is strong and visceral. Figures painted or drawn appear to be deliberately simple yet vibrant, giving the feeling that one is viewing encapsulated works from a much earlier era. There is a juxtaposition of images which are sketched and unrefined – even juvenile at times – alongside lush paintings and collage works which emanate unabashed extremism and passion. With sketches of the cotton gin in action next to paintings of overzealous jazz musicians in the midst of performance, the harsh reality of the slave trade is juxtaposed next to emergent energies of African-American culture – both being inseparable factors from one of the most heartbreaking chapters in American history.
Further, other images show semi-nude slaves under the harsh gaze and instruction of white colonialists. At first glance, the show might seem sloppy or disorganized, but the confusion and layered multiplicity may be intentional. Woven Winds embodies the artist’s stream of consciousness which attempts to, in part, link to a more universal perspective on suffering, oppression and the flow of power.
Boghiguian’s installation offers a personalized version of American history as it is on the minds of many paying attention to the rapport between contemporary politics and culture. Yet, this focus also opens up a larger conversation on international trade agreements and modern day textile production as it relates to other westernized countries – not least Sweden and its expanding fashion and design industries. With the two spheres of politics and culture overlapping, it is impossible to ignore how one influences the other. When one sphere slips away from view, then the other follows. Boghiguian appears to be genuinely invested in her forty-year practice which investigates geographic sites of intrigue, histories and rebellions; she suggests notions of camaraderie and an urgent transformation of the spirit. The detection, cultivation and appreciation of authenticity in the arts is, perhaps, one of many significant steps towards locking down a similar truth which can be embraced in the political realm as well.