A Celebration of My Defeats 1 (Buggle Call), 2009

On Ali Cabbar’s Disquiet Shadow

By Basak Senova
(From Disquiet Shadow exhibition catalogue)


When I first encountered Ali Cabbar’s works some years ago, I was moved by the different associations and reflections conveyed through his exceptional visual language, which was simple and direct. His works have the potential to unfold themselves through multiple layers that become activated by the effort of the viewer. Hence, they all carry a sense of disquiet and solitude, with fragmentary and incomplete narrations.

Years later, I detected similarities, both form-wise and content-wise, between his works and Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. Eventually, while working with Ali Cabbar for the “Disquiet Shadow” exhibition in 2009 and 2010, Pessoa’s book came to function as a compass for my curatorial decisions. Therefore, I will follow the paths of this book once again in my attempt to write a text on his works.

Disquiet Shadow

The entire life of the human soul is mere motions in the shadows.1

Ali Cabbar’s work addresses political, psychological, and existential dimensions of an individual, processed through a highly politically engaged life. Yet, none of the politically charged issues in his works implicate a didactic tone; instead they conceal themselves either with symbols or black humour. Thus, he creates a shadow which veils the disquiet of his experience. Nevertheless, a suspicious viewer always has the gratifying opportunity of revealing that which is hidden in the shades of shadow.

The burden of feeling. The burden of having to feel.

Narration is a precept for Ali Cabbar’s works. All the works have their own narratives with lapses and incomplete tenses. They are mostly fragmentary, as if moments and motions are extracted either from anonymous anecdotes or personal reminiscences. Some of them are subtly deceptive. Some of them are innocent. They are painful. They are disquiet.

I’ll appear in the fog as a foreigner to all life, as a human island detached from the dream of the sea, as a uselessly existing ship that floats on the surface of everything.

The works are mostly in the form of a series, and sometimes just a single piece. Ali Cabbar’s narrations always develop as a personal inquiry toward certain issues that he has been confronted with as an individual, such as: his resentment toward political powers; his questioning of axiomatic powers and authority; his distress over a nation with short-term memory loss; and his fight for freedom. It is, therefore, possible to follow the traces of an exiled individual’s experiences.

But my self-imposed exile from life’s actions and objectives and my attempt to break off all contact with things led precisely to what I tried to escape.

Exile is, indeed, not a choice and always linked to the possibility of return. However, it designates a new realm that is different from the homeland. “Exile discourse thrives on detail, specificity, and locality.”2 Therefore, it is possible to perceive two or more realities that one could experience in exile.

Let’s cut a path in life and then go immediately against that path.

Moreover, exile, as a solitary experience, also indicates an opposition to the place where one is forced to live.3 It could be a schizophrenic experience, as it demands a continuous effort to locate one’s self.

I’m two, and both keep their distance – Siamese twins that aren’t attached.

One of the most important characteristics of Ali Cabbar’s works is how they oscillate between these realities. Together, they always inhabit either more than one reality together or the opposition between these realities, even if they are juxtaposing one another. Yet, in some cases these realities are too far away to intersect. In that respect, they might be forcing the viewer to read the works in multiple ways. There is a constant tidal situation between states of these multiple and diverse realities. Nothing stable is maintained, however, it is possible to read an alternating charge and discharge of meaning. This is the state of being inside and outside at the same time.

Suddenly, I am all alone in the world. I see all this form the summit of a mental rooftop. I’m alone in the world. To see it to be distant. To see clearly is to halt. To analyse it to be foreign.

The aesthetic distance to these realities which the works create also emphasizes the artist’s position as someone who witnesses, observes, and records through his unique way of expression. This very distance simply shows how he rejects to becoming an accomplice to these realities in revealing what they indicate. Yet, in this very act of recording –through art works that take on the responsibility of expressing- he utilizes black humour as a means of undertaking the cruelty, injustice, and emergency of his life experiences. This manifests a connection between aesthetics and politics in his work.

For me he had the visual mission of a symbol…

At this point, we encounter an over-exposition of symbolism. He has, all throughout his life as an artist, , duplicated meaning by using visual rhetoric, regardless of the dates of production. And in some cases, an artwork even becomes a symbol on its own. His drawing style plays an important role in arriving at a clear perception and recognition of these symbols.

Ali Cabbar has a degree in graphic design, and has been living and producing in Belgium for the last 15 years -the country where ligne claire was developed. Ligne claire is a drawing style pioneered by Hergé (Georges Prosper Remi), the creator of The Adventures of Tintin. It uses clear strong lines of uniform thickness and weight, along with strong colours devoid of shading or cross-hatching. For this reason, it is also called Democracy of Lines.4 Cabbar’s drawing style evidently follows Ligne Claire in similar fashion, and therefore is quite distinctive in terms of clarity and simplicity.

Within all this simplicity, he is also obsessed with details. These details function as the foreshadowing of his narrations. The exaggeration of the scales and paradoxical visual elements highlight these details in some of the works.

I sleep when I dream of what doesn’t exist; dreaming of what might exist wakes me up.

Such compositions, therefore, present dreamlike states, like a shift from realistic to surrealistic, by unfolding discreet and fragmentary stories. In such cases, amnesia creates lapses in the narratives of the works. As the stories are spontaneously being completed by the viewer, amnesia also works as a defence mechanism to cope with whatever is being experienced at the moment.

On Spatial Design of the Exhibition

Yapı Kredi Kazım Taskent Art Gallery used to be a bank before it was transformed into an exhibition space for contemporary art. The structure and architectural elements suggest a challenging space as a gallery for contemporary art. Obviously, viewing an artwork could change completely due to the setting. Therefore, the gallery has once again been architecturally transformed to meet the design requirements of the exhibition.

The exhibition consists of sections with different formats (such as drawing, mural, animation, light box, and spatial installation). Therefore, the gallery is divided into sections with minimal architectural interventions. The walls are built only of plaster; the ceilings and the walls are painted either white or black.

In order to support the style of the artist, the exhibition’s spatial design is based on the simplification of the space through the use of basic geometrical forms in creating sections, and by eliminating unnecessary details.


1     Pessoa, Fernando (2002). The Book of Disquiet. Ed. and Trans. Richard Zenith. London: Penguin, p. 380, 122, 85, 380, 27, 20, 80, 60, 127.

2     Naficy, Hamid (Ed.) (1999). Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media and the Politics of Place. New York: Routledge, p. 4.

3     Said, Edward (1990). “Reflections of Exile.” In Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. Ed. Russell Ferguson. Cambridge: MIT Press: 357-366.

4     Herge. Retrieved Jan 04, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herge

Ligne_claire. Retrieved Jan 04, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne_claire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: