Everything is more memorable when it’s connected to a song or a piece of music. A distant dwindling emotion is instantly heightened, an old love we’d done our best to mentally burn to ashes and scatter into the abyss of oblivion is immediately resurrected, a place is recalled, an incident is brought forth or we ourselves are jolted back if any of those things were accompanied by music when we experienced them.
I chanced upon the work of René Magritte a few years ago when I was watching television at a friend’s house. After a succession of alarmingly talentless pop stars, a song came on by a classical Arab singer I absolutely adore, an icon and one of the very few I follow. I sat up attentively and increased the volume.
Julia Boutrous is the epitome of class, talent, patriotism and femininity in the Middle-East. Her voice is soft and pure and she represents a period in the evolution of Arabic music when more value was placed on substance, depth and talent. She also happens to be extremely beautiful.
The name of the song was “Shi ghareeb” which in Arabic translates to “Something strange“. What I foundstrange, in the most positive way, was the video for this song.
Blue and white were the dominant colors in the video; Julia is seen in an empty room with a window, a mirror and a framed canvas. When she’s not looking at her own reflection in those objects, she’s watching clocks dropping from the white clouds, or a rain of green apples and suited clock-faced bowler-hat-wearing men. It made absolutely no sense.
I learnt later from my friend, an interior designer, that the video was inspired by several René Magritte paintings. Mainly Golconde and The Listening Room.
René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist and writer. Prior to adopting a Surrealist style Magritte’s art was initially impressionistic. His first surrealist painting was The Lost Jockey.
He held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927 to scathing reviews from critics. He left to Paris following this failure and that’s where he got even more involved with the Surrealist movement when he met André Breton, the French poet, writer and the founder of Surrealism.
What I enjoy about Magritte’s paintings is that he never tried to tell us what he meant with his art. Like all Surrealists, Magritte aimed to reveal the unconscious mind. However, he did that by juxtaposing his seemingly unrelated symbols and offered your unconsciousness the pleasure of making a connection itself. His paintings often included the ‘man-made’ side by side with the ‘natural’, perhaps in a way indicating a rivalry or a struggle. For example, a brick wall and a clear sky, an apple and a man with a bowler’s hat, a naked woman with a mirror, trees growing out of a table, and so on. Was he alluding to us consciously (man-made) restraining our unconscious minds (which are natural and limitless)? I am no art critic, but I’d like to think that in some of his paintings, Magritte does exactly that. The titles of his paintings are more hints about their meanings than they are descriptions about what we are looking at.
At the age of thirteen, Magritte’s mother committed suicide by drowning herself in a river. She was found dead with her dress over her face. Her suicide had a big impact on Magritte’s art and the many paintings of his of people with concealed faces are thought to be the result of that experience.
The Vancouver Art gallery is hosting a Surrealism exhibition (The Color of my Dream; the Surrealist Revolution in Art), and Magritte’s paintings are among those on display. I intend on going there before the exhibition ends in September. I’ll be thinking of Julia Boutrous when I do.