“Football XI” (2004), is one of a series of paintings of soccer balls by the artist known as “immi.” Photo courtesy Matthew Bown

Dealing in, and with, terror

By Mathhew Bown


In 2007, at the suggestion of the artist immi, I began preparing an exhibition with the title “Notes Towards a Definition of Terrorist Culture,” or something similar.

immi (an abbreviation of “immigrant”) was a pseudonym used by the artist to conceal his identity from someone in his home country who had it in for him. I never got to the bottom of that, but I have no doubt it was also a considered self-presentational gesture. I had shown his work before, in 2004: a series of realistic paintings of soccer balls – footballs – presented in mandala-like compositions (the ball a perfect circle on a square canvas). I produced a catalogue  called “The Football Paintings (and Other Canvases),” with an artist interview by Nina Dimitriadi. The show was a success: it received a couple of newspaper (but not art-press) reviews, and a TV interview offer from Channel 4 News, which immi turned down because they wouldn’t let him conceal his face. There were sales, almost all to women buying for their husbands. Adam Cohen, the son of the collector Frank Cohen, who was working in a London gallery and subsequently went to work for Gagosian in New York, took a great interest in the work and marketed immi's paintings to professional footballers somewhere up north.

immi's idea for this next show was to explore how existing works of art or popular imagery, including movies, could be subverted to undermine their original message, whatever that was, in favor of a contrary one directed against Western hegemony. One of his real-world models was Hamas TV’s Farfour, a Mickey Mouse-type character for feeding Palestinian children anti-Israeli propaganda, a ploy which Walt Disney’s daughter described as “pure evil.” I should say that immi wasn’t at all opposed to Western hegemony; the exhibition was intended as an act of the imagination, not a political gesture.

Read the rest of this story in the Winter 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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