Tala Madani

Stoneman Skinning Man


Not on display

Tala Madani born 1981
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 458 × 406 mm
Purchased with funds provided by Mehves and Dalinc Ariburnu 2011


Stoneman Skinning Man is a small-scale oil painting on canvas by the Iranian-born artist Tala Madani. It depicts two men, one of whom is apparently made from stone. This figure peels the skin of the second man, who stands in front of him with his arms raised. The second man has a strange bulge protruding from the front of his body, with a cave-like opening exposing the inside of his torso. This unsettling image is depicted in a style typical of Madani’s practice, also seen in A with Wagon 2010 (Tate T13320). Madani’s titles are typically descriptive of the action occurring in the picture.

The artist works on two scales: larger canvases and smaller, more focused, vignettes. Like A with Wagon, this work is characteristic of her smaller paintings, which typically depict spaces that can be read as stage sets where absurd actions take place. The characters in Madani’s paintings are always male, and often take the form of a cartoon-like, dark haired, possibly Middle Eastern figure. These men are usually engaged in actions of base behaviour. Madani has stated that she treats the smaller paintings as a more secular space than her larger, abstract canvases. The actions taking place are absurd conflations of the real and the fictional. She creates the paintings by first making studies of her subjects. These, however, are only loosely worked out, with the artist preferring that the paintings retain a spontaneous feeling and do not ‘hang on skill’ (conversation with Tate curator Kyla McDonald, May 2010).

Stoneman Skinning Man belongs to a series of works made by Madani in 2011. These are characterised by a graphic quality akin to the form of comic strips. This series features men engaged in pointedly humorous attempts to instruct themselves, and is mainly concerned with manual, highly staged activity. Madani used the German-Argentinian writer Esther Vilar’s text The Manipulated Man, published in 1971, as a source of inspiration for her work. This controversial book, produced in defiance of the women’s liberation movement, contested the feminist view that women were the victims of men, putting forward an argument that women condition themselves towards this behaviour and consciously control men through it.

The actions which take place in Madani’s paintings hint at social constructions as a possible source of the men’s hapless situations. The humour in this work relates to Madani’s Iranian background and specifically the Iranian culture of male one-upmanship. The artist has described her use of the male figure as both a critique of machismo and a comment on gender and social stereotypes (conversation with Tate curator Kyla McDonald, May 2010).

Further reading
The Generational: Younger than Jesus, exhibition catalogue, New Museum, New York 2009.
Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, exhibition catalogue, Saatchi Collection, London 2009.

Kyla McDonald
September 2011

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