Between Physical,Tora bora, Gallery of Fine Arts, Slovenj Gradec, 2003.

Between Physical,Tora bora, Gallery of Fine Arts, Slovenj Gradec, 2003.

Between Physical,  Tora Bora, Gallery of Fine Arts, Slovenj Gradec, 2003.

 The unusual title of the cycle of paintings created between 2001 and 2002 is explained by the author Nataša Tajnik: “Tora Bora is situated in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, and it was the location of battles in “the war against terrorism” in 2001. It also refers to the military operation that took place in this area led by the American armed forces. In the native language Tora Bora means ‘the black widow, lady, woman’ … ‘Tora Bora (black widows)’ is a story of emptiness, loneliness, pain and waiting narrated through the medium of paintings.”

The cycle was created from an emphatic concern about the distressing situation in Afghanistan and as a critical reaction of the author against the events in the world, where women hide their emotions and experiences beneath (apparently) impenetrable clothes and where they are denied (from our perspective) any voice.

In the compositionally simplified structure of the paintings the most striking elements are the figures that evoke associations of a silhouette of a covered woman, which in the imagery of the West typically represents an Islamic woman. The covering scarf as one of the most dominant attributes of a Muslim woman is also reinforced by the media. However, we need to be cautious when attributing the meanings to the covering garments. Anthropologist Nancy Lindisfarne, who conducted an extensive field research in the Arab countries, including Afghanistan, warns that the western discourse on the covering garments often serves to hide our own inequalities (between genders), supports the ideology of imperialism and serves as a political means.1 “The rhetoric potential of an image is in its void; everything depends on who is discussing the phenomenon of covering, for whom and with what purpose.”2

The silhouettes of the figures (covered female bodies) in the Tora Bora paintings are carriers of this void which is filled with the associative meanings of the audience depending on their worldviews. These are images of women, seen as “the other” and “the second” from the perspective of a western viewer, the unknown, anonymous women without a voice that would reach beyond their intimate world. They arouse curiosity in the viewer to see the unknown, to expose the hidden, to reveal the stories and lives of the covered bodies. The female body, in western culture excessively and constantly exposed in nudity, lacking the mystery (and perhaps therefore lacking true seductiveness), exists in this world only in the form of phantasmic images for the others. The covered body, a phantasm for the West, is the last fortress of the hidden (and therefore still mysterious) intimacy.

Another of Nataša Tajnik’s paintings that needs to be mentioned here is the Matrix, “an abstract translation of the physiological form and content (void?) of the human womb – in a lively and rich colour code” (N. Tajnik). The womb as the symbol of the origin of life and the world is the crucial organ of a female identity. It has a critical distinctive value in the determination of sexes. Its reproductive function contributes essentially to a different perception of a female body and its physicality, making a woman “the other” objectively different as well as different through the socially constructed identities of sexes. The womb, like the vagina, is hidden from the view (unlike the very visible penis, the key element of the male identity). Yet despite being covered and invisible/unseen it represents a universal, undisputable attribute of a female body. The revealed images of the womb next to the covered silhouettes of the female bodies subvert the common view of a female body. Both men and women in the West perceive the image of a covered (Islamic) woman as hierarchically inferior to their own. The womb, the intrinsic part of every female body hidden under either covered or uncovered skin, defies these distinctions. Some details in the Tora Bora paintings – embroidery patterns taken from traditional (European) baptismal gowns of the new-borns, ornamental awl-like shapes of a pre-historic tool resembling the vulva (the painting The Battle) – are intentionally incorporated into the painting as female attributes, intensifying the associative potential of the images.

When interpreting Nataša Tajnik’s works we cannot ignore her distinctive way of using the colour palette. She agrees that there has been a substantial shift in this respect in comparison to the earlier cycle The Painting – A Sieve of Images which could be regarded as the opposite of the Tora Bora cycle. This shift is very clear if we compare the use of colours in the Matrix (belonging to the former cycle) and the paintings of the latter cycle. The stark contrast of colours and black figures (The Battle) is replaced with both extreme poles of the colour spectrum (Tora Bora and Tora White). The realm of the black signifies the realm of darkness, fear, emptiness. The whiteness, on the other hand, evokes the diametrically opposite feelings: light, hope, endlessness. In both realms mysterious, satirical, waiting figures are erected, testifying about the existence of the (still) unrevealed and unknown intimate destinies of the human world.

Katarina Hergold

[1] Interview with Nancy Lindisfarne. Text: Irena Weber. Emzin, year XI, Nr. 3-4, Ljubjana, 2001, p. 31.

2 ibid., p. 31.