The Manual from Loss to Destruction
Shaheen Merali

Chapter 1: Between Wounds

Navid Azimi Sajadi appears somewhat fragile as he inhales the frail air in Rome
 or Istanbul, moving, as he does, between different cities. Slowly, relentlessly the pressure mounts and the feeling of foreignness continues. Arriving, as any stranger does, in a rented room, clearing the past, shifting within the interior between what ‘has been here before and been here forever’, Navid has got used to taking a strong drag on his cigarette as it helps to fake peace and blow away the cobwebs of the dense smog of Tehran from his head.

Managing as he does between the middle of Asia and the edge of Mediterranean Europe, where the veil is the thinnest and the airports thick with new arrivals, a ghostly tepid border prevails in which insignificant casualties pour out their crafts. Here, in Rome, Navid, drools over the passages of time that create their own cultural terms, terms of longing, terms that define you as brown and the slow settling into the debris of crisis upon stasis. Wavering, as do all immigrants in mittel Europa, between the coffee that brings us back to our senses and the books that we carry into our apartment-trenches, we are found to be disproportionately operating in a few, selected neighbourhoods and the terrain that we are allowed to occupy.

Navid, like all of us, suburban explorers, can feel concealed by the daily metropolitan tedium in which we feel exploited, often seeking solace in that which it soon becomes; for Navid it is his homeland, Iran with its yesterdays of fake revolutions based on theocratic beliefs, a memory that lapses between contemporary time

and captured space, both in a perfectly linear structure, yet even so colliding on a daily basis.

This pain, like the burning of the sun at the back of one’s eyes, drives as a bolt
of unbearability that remains constant. The need to escape from its shameful ideology has reduced its collective aspirants’ existence into a set of rehearsals in the possibility of overcoming its isolating dichotomies. The feeling of longing and the desire to abandon pervades everywhere, everything. All agree, that without a sense of saviour to appease their abilities to sense an end- ‘we remain in a mess of theocratic modernity’. Ah, this globalised unevenness, in which we are further forced into becoming radically different, whilst not in the same economic zone


let alone year, even the centuries separate to further mark our differences. This
city, for instance, indeterminately lost, a forgone second Rome; a struggling valley surrounded by seven hills, saturated in the pain of empires, seldom spoken of by the world that it birthed. Famished, beaten and choked of its gods, goddesses, myths and gates, Navid’s heart is tugged by the grandeur of the abandoned and of that which has elapsed. Like his native, Tehran, Rome is impassable through its own making, now the mountains that water its valleys seem like another perimeter
fence that guards it from unwanted guests, guests like Navid, students of its encroaching liminality.

The incomplete is the complete, love forgotten, the temptation of nostalgia renders us hostage to its ruins; Tehran, Shiraz, Esfahan, mosques like villas are the lungs of the megalopolis, greying from scooter fumes. Meanwhile, diesel fuels Aquila, Rome, Bologna, Napoli into a hole called progress. Navid’s relocation to this choking Roman capital city, makes him part of the migrant smog that hovers between its architectural heroes and heroines in a symphony performing the tragedy of Plato’s republic. Rome, a city that seemingly has historically befriended every estranged corner of old Palestine, now closes its eyes to the historical cosmopolitan. The traffic circles the statues, the churches and the fountains, making them into islands, thickly covered in the dust of the pictorial logic of a new fundamentalism. Navid is interested in what it is to be in-between, departing one fundamental logic to arrive on the shores of the next tragic rise of a latent fascism; how the flaccid logic of both drives to disallow, disavow and distance.

Sometimes, the tragedy of living in two places at once, is that it forces one to look from above, at all things tumbling or fallen, or on their way down. Cities, it has been contested, are frozen designs from histories, best viewed in the dipping light of the moon, which allows us to think differently about their meaning. When viewed in the darkened rubric of contrasted meanings, the shroud of darkness allows its covert form to rise. With the notion of it as a dwelling and a working place as its identity, it’s ‘being’ becomes at dusk a place disturbingly sexual, prowling and devoted to servicing the comfort of the unknown - a counterface of its daytime identity.

The Camouflage Series

The lurid nature of a city as a shadow, its behaviour, can only be evident in the cold light of day, when we examine the cravings carved in its stone - of marble heroes, gods in plaster, a mosaic from the cravings of prehistoric cultivations, wherein the desire interacts to make solid kitsch. Herein, in the intense clarity of a disfigured mythology and theocracy, the city is the base of darkest fantasies, every thought and every intention masculine. In examining, the statues as statutes of Rome, Navid starts to return to this city’s history of sexual violence. In populated places Roman orgiastic escapades remain stubbornly wedged between traffic lights and newspaper stands show rapes, scenes of abductions and other acts of travesty.

In the sheer daylight one loses one’s blatancy as (unseen), the tourists arrive in Mexican waves, awed and remaining blinded to their desecrating postures. In re- examining these spectres as solid blocks of vile fornications, of acts that demean or acts that seduce us, Navid’s work, the Camouflage starts to make sense of the


palimpsest that can still manage to shock us from its rococo plinths. The cultural codes born from the mythologies of an elapsed world, framed in the renaissance remain afflicted by depictions of worlds beneath the sea, of grave underworlds that can still disturb in their proclamations and incite values that have contributed to the hub of civilising horizons. Are these spaces or seizures of times no longer accountable by numbers on any calendar, or as Navid’s work claims are they shadows of phantasmagoric revelations of a Taurean past that are in camouflage in all our cities and hidden within our values as imaginary foundations?

The Camouflage Series comprises digitally manipulated photographs interrogating many uncertainties. Constructed in three stages, in the foreground the statues from Rome that litter its avenues and piazzas are symbolically framed by stalactite beehive entrances to many Persian and Arabian mosques and, within these cellular pyramidical structures, is an alluring profile of someone of an ambiguous gender facing outwards, its gaze settling on the audience.

One key question the Camouflage Series poses is ‘How did these male dominated scenarios, attributed with divine retributions but often employing torture contribute to the smooth characteristics of what we call high culture and civilised society?’ And more importantly, ‘What ideals do they represent to us now?’ In many ways that Navid uses both of these forms, the statues and the mosque entrance

become attractive wallpaper, within which lurks an innocent looking, young
but fragile individual, coyly and flirtatiously looking out. When so little of their symbolic mannerism is no longer understood and the sophisticated power of their architectural framing and intention, has been lost, the statue and the mosque now provide a cruising ground for the fraternity of city dwellers, seeking pleasure from the disdain of lived realities.

We still seem to be able drink and flourish in the Gaudi–esque space they occupy, where its revengeful psychosis becomes a fairground for the postmodern settler, who himself has entered twentieth century Europe after two of the greatest wars ever fought on this earth. Navid’s Camouflage Series manages to capture this constant flux between desire and revenge, in layering the foundations of both Persian architecture and Roman public art together, a playground composed
from the spectral delights of an enriched Persopolis and the festivities of bygone extravaganzas. In doing so the work continually asks... ‘What is our heritage and what do we do with it now? What role does it play for that which is already uprooted and dysfunctional?’ Navid questions the glaze that both histories have imparted

as such structures, the monumentality of Islamic mosques and the acquiescence of Roman conquest, have somehow cleaned the blood. This glaze now suggests
a clean fountain to drink from, even in remembering the victim and embattled histories reinforce the role of antiquity as an architectonic bastion and we become part of conforming to their votive dominance, distanced against our better understanding of male vigour and agreeing to a social context that jumps between Ulysses to Imamhood which now dominate the districts of every Italian and Iranian city, whilst metaphorically appearing in most parts of the world.


A comparative classicism, that has become ‘the holding pattern’ is open to interpretation, but has more or less become mere shapes that now confine us to
the past, disallowing us from working within new found liberties, from civil rights to feminism. These discourses in stone maintain the threat of a dream-like apocalypse, within which we are meant to be clandestine witnesses. Phantoms and djinns look down upon us and we stare back at some sort of common nostalgia which is not of our making, nor does it represent our futures but exposes the rapacity of a past from which it has arisen.

Peace, - what peace, Navid asks, how can I walk, draw or mock these vanities, rocks that roam whilst I sleep, that walk into my dreams, when the sky is drenched with super heroism? Today we are made to wonder at their Herculean strength as we flit between cities in vain, between guarded states and languages, as we stammer to understand our tradition, our past and our agency. We die hungry.

Chapter 2: Cultural Shock

The hermetic codes that Navid reclaims as his own makes them also ours; we often make what is ours through the eye of the camera, as we draw nearby the monuments that portray the shock of the old world. A world dancing in the streets with muscular Gods and made sacred by the eloquence of entrances that emulate beehive chambers in venerated mosques.

These architectural tomes remain indivisible from history and heritage until
we steady our gaze with a camera, pointing to them as evidence of our lack of understanding of the past that created them, making them gigantic, enormous ways to address a utopian pluralism. In the last century, we have withdrawn from the past, maybe as a reaction to the two world wars allowing somehow a taking apart, partly out of its super lacrimonious effects, a past that has haunted us as the only narrative that has survived in spirit and remained in stone. The synthetic contractions of public sculptures and buildings reek of a blue-blooded race and wealth, of empires and emirs, of shahs and nobility - a lacunae from the Middle Ages. And now, Navid, like us, has to make daily sense of these structures that remain of the dreams and beliefs that guard the portals of the imaginary and the sentinels of ideologies. These random projectiles from the past, these churches, plazas, squares, districts, citadels and bazaars, and mosques make us all quixotic. Navid, like others amongst us, refuses to be betrayed by this reality.

Even if our hearts and thoughts remain deconstructed by such master narratives in this postmodern, post-structural revolt, we seem to have returned back to a partial ignorance. The signs surround us and the signifiers from our biased past displace us in a pool of ignorance, asking why this and thus was created and still remains in our megalopolis mist. The inheritance of such conflations, of ideologies, from the late aegis of a mythological Greek and the Roman past and, in Navid’s case, also the kingdom of Iran, dually construct an empiricism, of high European mediocrity. In the case of Iran, this turns to the inner logic of a theocratic schizophrenia, of a troubling but different Islamic mediocracy impinging on both the citizen outside and within, in every spiritual and political prefecture.


“When the winds of change blow. Some people build walls and others build windmills” 1

A Doubting Consciousness (Retrogrades of Venus)

Let us get this right, a revolution had just begun; one which we had started to understand as ‘being’ our earthly right; its textualities startled the fast-flowing sale of democratic values, leading to the change of subjectivities. Our rock solid work, implemented with integrity and love, caused the reversal of historical loss and a history blighted by holocausts. What was founded can be termed as the heterogeneity of texts. Alarmingly, in this new millennium this valuable work to recover human dignity, still in its infancy, had become fatalistically miasmic for the gentry. A messianic task has been aborted, the Venere Guerilla, a limbless statue surrounded by arms that kill and maim, a yellow halo of guns and axe-heads amend this disfigurement. The figure floats against a shallow, blue background of a mosque detail, that resembles a cavern covered in a mosaic of Islamic tiles.

Venere Guerilla in many ways represents the confounding shapes that we have inherited, and which now serve the astrologer’s cards and charts, which are further universalised as the galaxy of planets and stars. What had remained as memory from the death of an empire has floated into the astral sphere, from wherein we

try to follow its course, to understand the asymmetry of this planet. What had started as a narration of the creation finally led to an ideology “composed of eros and dust” 2 in the form of the devout.

The recent storms of austerity, combined with wars of errors, have reversed
another death of our age. Liberty has been exposed as we reach a terminus where knowledge has been displaced, removed to make way for a transnational darkness. This momentum towards a veiling of autonomy of people and knowledge, a taking advantage of us, without us, allowing a moral drift to make darkened clouds in
many horizons where the sunsets seem to have become a mass grave of Babelian historical limit. A means that has reached its end before the end... from Hiroshima to Bhopal to Fukishima... Herein our imaginations have dried like a summer fruit in the midday sun, pruned of its health, reduced to indifference without understanding the life source which has been wasted, ourselves made into another.

Iran, as in Asia, and Italy, as in Europe, remain grounded in this faithless bloodletting. Now, it seems, anything goes; a roundabout, where the object itself
is no longer representational, representative or reaffirming. All is loose; all is viably part of a flooded market in real estate. Our purpose is now to assess, to confess beyond our mattress and our nightmares, to make confessional challenges in public, to release our ideas and our relief in sharing, away from the loneliness of this uneven, disappointing affiliation to ignorance and power.


Chapter 3: A Monsoon Falling on a Mobile Library (The Camouflage Series and Drawings with Guns)

Navid, like many of his contemporaries, is born in an post-era, of a totalising system, the son to a mother who remains physically in one land whilst he languishes far removed in another – distanced between their daily realities, virtually resolved by spectres on skype but still deprived of contact. Healing himself in this regretful

void, of a bitterness and a melancholia that remains endless has evolved into these confessions on paper, rendered in photographic laboratories and his studio in Rome. Here he bolts the personal, the artifice and the artefact of dualities together with the real and felt contradictions of places apart at the beginning of another iconoclastic century.

In this Hermaphroditic loneliness, one remains in flux, addressing isolated voices that can become plural in demanding change and justice, the lust to heal and to distance this morbidity, this long night that Robert Smithson described as “the illusory babels of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humors, or voids

of knowledge... but this quest is risky, full of bottomless fictions and endless architectures and counter-architectures... at the end, if there is an end, are perhaps only meaningless reverberations.” 3

Navid, in his might, is starting to create an oppositional history of postmodern renderings from the deeply problematic as well as poetics of revenge and treason. Trying to find the new record, by manipulating of identity of the icons and idols 4 new perspectives have arisen from their sullen ashes. An interpretation between the (dis) ease of two places, two hearts and the dual symbols of myth and progress. A futile new normativity, of flights between overt figurations of Pan and Grimede find values in crisis against the voids and aniconism of Islam. A solipsism emerges, of the self against a mirror palace that had graced the world within the ruins of the archive and the mausoleum.

A Footnote: Illegal Myths

There are walls and there are walls. There was the Berlin Wall, which still exists
in the hearts of those who saw its bitter seeds and leaves, and then there is the
wall around Palestine, one after another. It was always the power of not knowing what was behind the wall that made the wall important, a sensation of suspended knowledge, a suspension that mixes knowing and not-knowing into a hazy mix of frustrations, of land that one stands on and the original borderless land, before the wall. This fright from the lack of continuity, of a frozen space, of not having just ONE, but living within a divided nation or state, is what Navid describes as his knowledge, a great mixture, a turmoil, all mixed, “a life in a bag”.5 This life has become a battle, donning the guise of a tree to cross the forested borders between countries and national states. Walled partitions and sets of realities remain guarded as countries, states, or worlds that become the way we feel about the beauty of the above and below, never anymore finding logic in where you belong.

Navid often draws portals inside and within his compositions, like hidden keys from various cultures; symbols and signs that have helped him to be guided more deeply beyond the walled silence of fundamental dreams of Islamic Republics
and the demonic of Capitalist consumerism. An early inspiration has been the Upanishads and the Bhagwagita, two ancient tomes from the Indian Subcontinent, speaking of battles, of hypocrisy and one of the earliest accounts of refugees and hostage taking.

The Bhagwagita, in its immense reflections on familial ties, portrays karma forever in waiting, as the final result and image of love and life. Navid’s first exhibition was called Atman / Brahman, the God of Creation in the Hindu trinity of Gods. Finding and tracing his roots to extradited texts, which also includes images from the miniatures of the Rajput and Moghul Empires, helps colour his sense of ancestry that stretches beyond the nostalgia of Persian identity in contemporary Iran. This stretch represents the family of Persia and Afghanistan, a broadened history of a poetic conquest of nearby lands on its eastern fronts. The architecture of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and even Burma plays a pivotal role in mapping the advent of a middle Asia, under the empirical control of the Moghul. This anciency, like the Roman anciency and the Iranian anciency provides for Navid a “fantasy, abandoned by reason, (producing) impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels”.6

  1. Chinese proverb, 

  2. W. H. Auden, 1 September 1939, The New Republic issue, 18 October 1939 

  3. Robert Smithson, “A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art,” The Writings of Robert Smithson: 
Essays with Illustrations” Art International, March, 1968 

  4. Idol: From Ancient Greek εἴδωλον (eidōlon, “image, idol”), from εἶδος (eidos, “form”) also: 
idol = beloved in Persian culture. (an explanation provided by the artist) 

  5. Interview with the artist on Skype (unpublished) 

  6. Francisco de Goya, (c. 1797). Etching, 21.5 cm ... An inscription below the work reads the quote. 


Shaheen Merali, halen Londra’da yaşamakta olan bir küratör ve yazardır. 2003-2008 arasında, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Almanya’da Sergiler, Film ve Yeni Medya Yöneticiliği yapmış, The Black Atlantic; Dreams and Trauma- Moving images
and the Promised Lands; ve Re-Imagining Asia, One Thousand years of Separation dahil olmak üzere birçok serginin küratörlüğünü üstlenmiştir. 2006’da 6. Gwangju Bienali (Kore) Yardımcı Küratörlüğünü, 2012 ve 2008 yılları arasında ise çoğunluğu Asya ve Avrupa’da olmak üzere on sekiz küratörlük yapmıştır.

Merali, Art Journal (Hindistan) ve Art Tomorrow’un (İran) düzenli yazarlarından olup,
Far Near Distance, Contemporary Positions for Iranian Artists (2004); Spaces and Shadows, Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia and About Beauty (2005): New York - States of Mind and Re- Imagining Asia (Saqi Books 2007) ve Everywhere is War (and rumours of war) for BodhiMumbai, India. (2008) taslağı da dahil olmak üzere birçok yayının editörlüğünü üstlenmiştir.

Diğerlerinin yanı sıra, aralarında Ahmed Alsoudani, Ramesch Daha, Shilpa Gupta, Reena Kallat, Jitish Kallat, Leena Kejriwal, Riyas Komu, Madforreal, Lisl Ponger, Prasad Raghavan, Sara Rahbar, Sumedh Rajendran, Simit Raveshia, Peter Riedlinger, NN Rimzon, TV Santhosh ve Ulrich Volz’un da bulunduğu çok sayıda sanatçı hakkında çeşitli makaleler yazmıştır. (

Shaheen Merali is both a curator and writer, currently based in London. Between 2003-8,
he was the Head of Exhibitions, Film and New Media at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany curating several exhibitions including The Black Atlantic; Dreams and Trauma-Moving images and the Promised Lands; and Re-Imagining Asia, One Thousand years of Separation. In 2006, he was the co-curator of the 6th Gwangju Biennale, Korea. Between 2012 and 2008, he has curated eighteen exhibitions, mainly in Asia and Europe.

Merali is a regular contributor to the Art Journal (of India) and to Art Tomorrow (Iran) and has edited several publications, including Far Near Distance, Contemporary Positions for Iranian Artists (2004); Spaces and Shadows, Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia and About Beauty (2005);
New York - States of Mind and Re-Imagining
Asia (Saqi Books 2007) and the seminal Everywhere is War (and rumours of war) for BodhiMumbai, India (2008).

He has written many essays on individual artists including Ahmed Alsoudani, Ramesch Daha, Shilpa Gupta, Reena Kallat, Jitish Kallat, Leena Kejriwal, Riyas Komu, Madforreal, Lisl Ponger, Prasad Raghavan, Sara Rahbar, Sumedh Rajendran, Simit Raveshia, Peter Riedlinger, NN Rimzon, TV Santhosh and Ulrich Volz amongst others. (