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New exhibition turns critical eye on global dominance of English language and Christianity

The debut show from Alibaba Conundrum (Ali Ahadi and Babak Golkar) opens Friday at Griffin Art Projects in North Vancouver
15 Commandments (The Origin of the Word), 2022. Inkjet on archival paper. | Courtesy of Alibaba Conundrum

In the spring of 2003, an archaeological team makes a discovery during an excavation at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. They discover tablets outlining an additional five commandments to the 10 already known. Unlike the known commandments, written in Hebrew, the newly unearthed ones are in Old English. They spell out: “Read it. See it. Say it. Add it. Amass it.”

This is the fictional story that plays out in a short film that visitors will see after they enter Alibaba Conundrum’s debut exhibition, which premiers Friday evening at Griffin Art Projects in North Vancouver. The show will run weekends until May 7, with an artist tour and talk on Feb. 18.

“The exhibition, or the film, in an episodic way goes through the logic of English language, and the economy and political economy of these commandments,” explains Vancouver-based artist Ali Ahadi, one half of Alibaba Conundrum.

To evoke these concepts, visitors will walk through a slaughterhouse curtain, walk through an image of an ancient home that survived the fires of Pompeii to view the film. Then, they’ll be immersed in a main exhibition space filled with framed photographs, formulas and a camera obscura-like device.

According to Ahadi and partnered artist Babak Golkar, who lives in North Vancouver, the Alibaba Conundrum project considers how the English language quietly conditions everyday experience and shapes subjects and citizens by posing as the norm. The artists’ work also explores English as a diasporic structure, tracing their own migration from Farsi to the dominant Western tongue.

“You will see that how the formation of English language and in a very tight relationship with Christianity form the logic of English grammar today,” Ahadi said. “Because we heavily rely on this verse of the New Testament that says: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God.’

“This exhibition has its own version of the New Testament, it says: ‘In the beginning was the Conundrum. And the Conundrum was with Alibaba, and the Conundrum was Alibaba.’ Based on this verse, the entire exhibition starts off.”

Speaking to how the project came together, Golkar said that the artists have known each other for a decade in Vancouver’s professional art scene.

“We’ve always had common interests, both politically, culturally and artistically,” he said, which has led to some previous discussions and collaborations.

When the residency at Griffin came up, they thought it would be a good opportunity to create something that’s an extension of their past individual works, research and personal interests.

“That basically started about 18 months ago. We’ve been essentially working on this exhibition since then,” Golkar said. “The majority of our time has been just formulating how we want to go about it, what types of medium and approach we’re going to have, but everything from the get go, we wanted to produce a short film, that everything kind of comes out of that.”

Alibaba Conundrum

Where: Griffin Art Projects, 1174 Welch St., North Vancouver

When: Opening reception: Friday, Feb. 10, 6 to 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until May 7, 12 to 5 p.m.; artist tour and talk Feb. 18

Admission: Free

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