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Review: Diana Al-Hadid: Cultural Ruins

Sculptures probe science, Middle Eastern history and religion at Tulane University

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Diana Al-Hadid is a native of Syria who emigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was a small child, but her show at the Newcomb Art Museum leaves the impression that she has been crossing borders and boundaries ever since. Her mind-bending sculptures and multidimensional wall-mounted works are so multilayered that different people may see them very differently as viewers are transported into the less familiar labyrinths of history, science and culture. As Newcomb museum director Monica Ramirez-Montagut notes, Al-Hadid is influenced by historical forms from art and architecture that she transforms with "drips, textures, patterns and ornaments that recall Arabic calligraphy and Islamic textile patterns. Yet through their ruinous quality, they simultaneously evoke absence."      Mob Mentality, which at first glance suggests a ghostly tapestry of overlapping Gothic arches, is emblematic. Up close, its spidery forms appear like poltergeists, and soon it becomes clear that it's a massive shadow box where gossamer, doily-thin polymer drips and industrial substances cohere in pale crescendos like waves of ghostly sea foam while evoking something of the multilayered Gothic aura of Anselm Kiefer's spooky expressionist canvases. Related techniques appear in her monumental sculpture Head in the Clouds, which recalls early Renaissance paintings in which saints loom miraculously above medieval cities, while also recalling the way lightweight materials are used in Carnival float construction. Those surreal, decadent and carnivalesque qualities extend to more substantial works like In Mortal Repose (pictured), a large reclining female form whose melting limbs, rendered in bronze seemingly oozing down a concrete pedestal, initially suggest an oversized chocolate sculpture. Here the perceived boundaries that define not only history but reality melt away in much the way digital technology and quantum physics depict reality as a complex construct — an unsettling perspective that probably causes many people to gravitate toward absolutist platitudes, but which Al-Hadid uses to create works that are intriguing and beautiful but also fun.

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