On Beauty (Chapter-4)

Abdullah Motaleb
Art & Literature
On Beauty (Chapter-4)

i had known this artist for a while now. the knowing did not come easily. it took time. our beginning was bumpy. there might have been doubts and distrust. this was yet another chance meeting. i had just arrived in a new town i would call my home later. i had not known anyone in this new town. a friend from my old town had given me an address of a restaurant, where people from my old country would meet. my friend thought, i may need help at the beginning. i needed help. i was about to move in with a truck load of home, with my family. i had found a flat on the 5th floor. the furniture would have to be taken to the flat. i needed help.

i had gone to the restaurant, hoping the people there would be able to give me some support. there were four or five men sitting at the back. i recognized them to be from my old country. i found the owners and their friends sitting at the back corner of the room. they asked me to sit with them. i introduced myself, mentioning where i got their address from. we talked. they had not been impressed, any one can come and claim to be some one they may not be. i had no history. they had never heard me mentioned. an accreditation, by a personality of accepted authority would have helped. i knew of no personality of authority in the community. in this new country every one was known to every one, from the old country. i was  an stranger. there was distrust. i had noticed the art works hanging on the restaurant walls. i said i might be interested in showing our works. the owners said, they have an artist who curates. the artist was present. i distrusted the artist and left it at that. they would not be able to help me with my other problem. they gave me another address, where i might find help. i left the restaurant a little troubled, my problem unresolved. that was my first encounter with the artist. i had not bothered to show him our works.


we had settled down well in this new town. this was an exciting place to be at the time of our arrival. the zeitgeist was blowing the hardest here. we had chosen the town deliberately. we had the wish to call a place a home. we did not feel this in the towns we had lived before. here, i had found work in a place i enjoyed being. the office had given me the opportunity to try out some aspects of my work i was keen to explore. we had found new friends. in the early days, i would return to the restaurant run by my old country people now and again to have some food from the old country. the owners were becoming friendlier. i would take my new friends to this restaurant. the restaurant was conveniently close to my new work place. i could go there for lunch. the new friends were keen to know about my old country. i remembered very little of that old country. all that had remained with me were my childhood memories. I had known very little about  the old country. the restaurant gave my new friends a little better idea.  the artist was not always present. the early distrust still remained. i did not try to contact the community ever again. there had been no further need. the community might have had their reservations about me too.


those early days in the new town were exciting. i was growing up while working, learning new possibilities, new aspects. i was also growing up with my children. our new friends were exciting, providing me with new information. the new friends, it was a complex group, coming from different parts of europe. the principals of the office were also exciting people. one of them was more than what the profession had asked for. he was writing, he was creating art work. we came close, in time. in time there grew a relationship that went further than the professionalism. at this time in my life, i possessed very little information. the new people around me had plenty information to offer. the new town had plenty to offer. i would take all opportunities possible to accept these offers.


in this new town i would go to the museums with my family in my free time. i had thought, art was defined. the makers of the museums, the shows, had sorted out the art works. a museum was an institution, an authority in the matter of art. i had accepted this authority, i was conditioned to accept the authority without questioning. the museums had put labels to the art works, neatly boxed. the authority of a museum would ensure that the art work and the artist presented would be of historic importance. i could rely on this fact. a fact, not a guess. everything i saw in these museums were art works. i could be sure of that. that was given, i would not have to question that. this is a relief, there would be no need to forge a definition of art or beauty. of course, i had my preferences, driven by my predispositions. beyond that i knew little. this realization for the need of my own definition is yet to come.  in time, there would rise other necessities. the questioning would come. the new friends had helped. artists and designers found their way to this circle of friends. we had artists and designers in our old circle of friends in the other towns too, but these new friends were more interesting. their views were much broader, there degree of information, much higher. our children had been pushing the boundary too. they had new questions, we needed to find answers to those too. my lack of information was shining through. i did not yet realize this.


it took long till  i met the artist coming from my other country again. this time, he pushed. the word got through to the community about the project i was working on. this project had interested them, because of what it was to be. the artist saw more. we began a slow nearing. we had more in common than i had expected. the distrust fell in time. i had opened myself to him more than to anyone else, not my family counting. he, from his side, might also have done similar. till then, my understanding of art and architecture, on artifice in general had been coming from an european perspective. i had no other understanding, I had no other possibility. i had no other information. this would change. this change had also to do with the work i was involved in.


that the project I had been preoccupied with would have consequences, in my thinking, in my seeing, i could not have guessed. the work had forced me to look back into my own life, my short journey. the work i was doing had been based upon what i had called in those days „the faded memory“. i was picking up the broken pieces of information i had collected in my earlier life, out of my own deep. an excavation, an archeology of my self.i had already begun to collect the debris while growing up with my children. i had thought that to be a necessity. now, during this work, i had to do more. i was forced to look into the culture, the highlights that might have existed. it was only when the work had become more visible to the public that i met the artist again.


the work had raised a few questions. i was not aware of these at first, the questions had not quite been precise. i did not realize that these were questions i should attend to. there had been rush. i had instead preferred to keep the rules and orders i had already established. there seemed to be no need to rectify, to modify these rules. the prejudices of alimited mind. some one said there were pre-judgments, he had been polite. the ones close to me, the friends, had noted my stubbornness, they called my rules dogmata. i overheard the comments. the shallowness of my thinking, the shallowness of the information i was putting together had been showing through. i myself did not notice that. i had not been happy with the outcome of the project,  but i did not know why. the slow nearing with the artist, the gradual growing up, might have helped now. for the project, it was too late.


the slow talks, that the artist and i began, had consequences. i realized, i had to return to my old country. i thought i had to return to my larger family, the relatives. i had cut myself off from my old country, my relatives. i had thought that to be necessary. my new country had so much more to offer, so much i had to absorb first.  i had neglected my old culture, my base to stand on so to speak, for too long. that there will be trouble ahead, no one warned me.


the artist had shown me his works, some of them were only the beginning, the idea. he had talked to me about his ideas, his rules. these rules seemed to be familiar. his works had attracted me, the works looked familiar to the works i had seen in the museums. that these works were art, done by an artist, was without a doubt. that the works were informed by his biography, by his knowing, was not yet clear to me. i had not related him or his work to be informed by the old country. I did not know that this kind of relationship would matter, that the biography of the artist would matter. I did not realize the connection between the weltanschauung of the artist and his finished work. the finished work would always be the sum of all his knowing and being did not come to my mind. this seems to be an axiom. a good work of any kind is the sum of all knowing of all time.


when i had returned to my old country for the first time after the long abstinence, i only had the wish to see my relatives, refresh my memory of the childhood. some of my close relatives had passed away, I had new relatives who had joined the family. there had been urgency. before the journey, the artist had given me an address, just in case i felt the need to meet some one. he said, the man was an architect and a good friend, nothing more.  i told him, there would be no need. the artist did not push. there had been the need.


after my arrival, i found out that there were plans to make a little house in our little village for the family. this was just an idea, there were no plans to show how the idea would be executed. my uncle who had felt the need for the family house, told me the mason will deal with that. i decided to go to the village and have a look. i had the wish to do the design. my uncle provided me a little room, with a small table, some colour pencils. i found it difficult to work without further tools. i called the friend  of the artist. he allowed me to work in his space. that was a beginning of another friendship. the office was close to where i had lived as a child. there were memories, adolescent memories linked with the neighbourhood, the first awakening of the restless days to come.

during my first stay in the old country, i had gone to the architect’s office every day. i would work there for a few hours and leave to visit the relatives. it had become a ritual. the architect would leave me with my work, i would leave him alone with his. there would be a beginning of another slow talk. he had noticed my reservation, he had let me be. now and again, i would use his balcony, he would follow me there. we would smoke a cigarette, spend a few minutes on the balcony. this turned out to be another slow nearing.


it was the smoke, the common work interest, the interest in art and architecture that got us closer. we began to talk. the balcony talks, i would call them later. these talks got extended to walks, to sofa talks, dinner talks. the talks would be extended to other subjects. all these were yet to come. on those early days, there were only the short breaks. the architect showed me a book he had done. the book was full of drawings. i was at a shock, when i went through the book. the book had opened up a complete new world of the old country for me. i had not been told of the richness this country had. the architect had meticulously measured the little temples, had them beautifully drawn, the layouts, the elevations. the book itself was beautifully made. i would want the book. it was expensive. at home, we would call it our bible. it would be the book to consult, when we did our work. the book had also forced us to do a few more trips to the old country. this was the beginning of a trail to grasp. the book had now made me more aware of my lack of knowing. the uneasiness growing. there was work waiting.

(to be continued …)

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