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The MIT List Visual Arts Center presents the first American solo museum exhibition by Tehran-born, Los Angeles-based artist Tala Madani. Tala Madani: First Light premieres a series of new paintings as well as a stop-motion animation made expressly for her presentation at the List. The exhibition was organized in collaboration with The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM).


For more than a decade, Madani has developed a practice centered on playful yet provocative representations of men. Her paintings, drawings, and films combine a lyrical and gestural figuration with mature and sometimes disturbing subject matter. These deadpan and often hilarious works satirize conventional notions of masculinity, recasting the male figure in various scenarios that both mock virility and redistribute the dynamics of power. Bright pastel color fields form the ground for group scenes in which balding, rotund, and mustachioed middle-aged men blindly follow each other in circles, undergo interrogation, and perform various humiliating acts. Unflinchingly scatological and abject, Madani’s consistent rendering of bodily fluids and human waste encourages a larger consideration of authority, desire, and shame.


Tala Madani: First Light encompasses the full scope of her larger related body of work, titled Smiley Has No Nose, alongside selected works from earlier series. This exhibition and the accompanying publication are the first to highlight Madani’s engagement with the cinematic. Many of the paintings feature the presence of illumination, for example, light beams directed at group of kneeling men in Projections or car headlights in The Primitive (both 2015). The notion of projection connects her work not only to cinema and its presentation of images through light and dark but also to art history, from formal strategies like chiaroscuro to allusions to Christian iconography including the Crucifixion and the Pietà. Madani’s work in stop-motion animation, by contrast, is in conversation with such diverse traditions as animated cartoons and the filmic experiments of the avant-garde in the early twentieth century. In making reference to the improbable physics of cartoons, where flattened figures can bounce back into shape and physical boundaries are infinitely elastic, Madani’s paintings and videos open up an unruly, anarchic space examining pervasive gender, racial, and ethnic visual stereotypes. Spanning medium, historical period, and culture, this amalgam of references enriches Madani's larger investigation into human fantasy and folly.


Tala Madani: First Light is co-organized by Kelly Shindler, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Henriette Huldisch, Curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center.


A full-color, 112 page-catalogue published by DelMonico Books/Prestel with contributions by the curators, Madani and A.L. Steiner is forthcoming in July 2016.


Tala Madani (b. 1981, Tehran, Iran) lives and works in Los Angeles. Her solo exhibitions include Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2014), and Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2013). Selected group exhibitions include the 2014 Taipei Biennial; Made in L.A. 2014, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the 5th Marrakech Biennale, Marrakech (2014); Greater New York, PS1, New York (2010); and The Generational: Younger Than Jesus, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2009).


Exhibitions at the List Center are made possible with the support of Cynthia & John Reed and Rick & Terry Stone.


General operating support is provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Council for the Arts at MIT, the Office of the Associate Provost at MIT, the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and many generous individual donors. The Advisory Committee Members of the List Visual Arts Center are gratefully acknowledged.


The exhibition catalogue is generously supported by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation. Special thanks to David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, and Pilar Corrias, London.