Power and Play: Interview with Qais Assali
By Diana Seo Hyung Lee
The paintings and drawings in Qais Assali’s installation "if you Like you can show my works in galleries" (2017–20) are displayed and treated like archaeological findings. At the SculptureCenter’s exhibition “In Practice: Total Disbelief,” these components were laid out on a low wooden pedestal and table—mechanisms that necessitated looking at and studying the pieces with some distance, while the exhibition title suggested accompanying this gap with a healthy dose of disbelief. The video installed adjacent to the paintings and drawings confirmed the need for this doubt. The footage, documenting the installation’s process, revealed that Assali is not the artist behind the images. A former roommate of Assali was an administrator of the fair Art Chicago and had received an unsolicited submission package from an artist supposedly with an Iranian passport, living in Afghanistan at the time. When she was moving out, she gave the materials to Assali, assuming he would find some interest in the works due to his shared Middle Eastern background with the artist. Regardless of the ignorance in this presumption, Assali found himself drawn to this package and used it as a departure point to further his ongoing investigation regarding artistic authorship and identity. Utilizing baffling, satirical, and even somewhat trivial elements, Assali intentionally disturbs the most private and unquestioned stereotypes constructed by Western hegemonies. I sat down with the artist to discuss the conceptual underpinnings and personal motivations in his practice.