Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Moment in the Rose Garden

This is the first of two or more pots. About four months ago I made a similar one. It was more asymmetrical but with the same surface imagery - a garden blooming and with signs of new life but also on the edge of decay. I left that one and turned to the one pictured above. I wanted to explore the imagery which associates with martyrdom. These are all flowers which seem to inhabit the narratives of martyrs and appear when they are pictured. The lilies are taken to be a symbol of purity. They often accompany images of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation. They are used in images of saints and they adorned the funeral cortege of Diana, Princess of Wales, nothing to do with purity I guess but certainly an adjunct to the growing narrative of Diana as the imperfect saint, redeemed by early death. Their very association with purity always seems to indicate imminent loss - loss of innocence or loss of life - they are often considered one and the same - certainly in Catholic traditions.

Roses, red roses, are the flower of romance but these are dying, these are the decaying part of the garden. These blooms are spent. And then there are green apples, still small, new, yet to grow and reach the stage of ripeness and harvest. So there is hope and promise - possibly.
In this vase, there is not too much indication of a garden. I think the sister vase, still in its unglazed state, has more of a landscape quality, a sense of distance. Even so this one has some sense of distance with the sky and a feel of direction with the positioning of the lily flowers. There is also a hint of 'pattern motif,' in the entanglement of the apples and roses - rather in the way there is sometimes with pre-Raphaelite painting when painting a specific picture seems to become decoration - something more of a signifier, a sign, more general.

I'm delighted with the relationship between the colours: that rather unyielding white, the cold red and the stern blue/grey of the sky seem to me to work together perfectly - though I say so myself. It felt like a colossal risk to place all three with more or less equal weight across the same surface but I think it's worked.

The name of this pot has been confusing me. I kept wanting to name it, 'In the Garden of the Martyrs,' without really knowing why. It's such a precise and strange name that I thought it must have come from somewhere - I must have encountered it before, but I didn't know where. Google tells me that that there are two books of that name, but I hadn't encountered either. However, one of them, actually called, 'In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs,' is a reference to the Golzareh Shohada / Behesht e Zahra outside Tehran in Iran and to all of the other mass cemeteries in Iran where the 'martyrs' of the Iran Iraq war are buried. I haven't been to any of these places but they are certainly in my consciousness because they are often talked of in Iran and now in London too. Ayatollah Khomeini is burried in Golzareh Shohada and, now, so is Neda Agha Soltan and Sohrab Arabi.

I think I shall keep, 'A moment in the rose garden,'(from T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets), for this vase, and the other one will be called, 'In the garden of the martyrs,' and will be an image of the 'martyrdom' of Neda and an exploration of the way that her death has been pictured. I think there will be a third, ideally, which will be for all of those who have died opposing the ruling regimes of Iran since 2009 and since 1979. Navigating this 'martyr' business is not unproblematic though, hence my repeated use of inverted commas, it is not something I can immediately accept - not without question anyway.

I need to get closer to this work before I can really start to explain why. I do know that you need to be dead to be a martyr and I'm not persuaded that the violent deaths of so many young people should remembered in quite this way. It's slightly too fetishistic, slightly too celebratory for my liking. And we need to people to live and win this struggle and function and produce the renewed and flourishing society that Iranians want, not a procession of dead people to be endlessly mourned.

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