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The titular smiley face is the motif in Tala Madani’s first solo show in Los Angeles, now on view at David Kordansky Gallery. The simplicity and naiveté of the symbol, with its genesis in hippie culture, are a good foil to the flat Eastern style and Freudian undertones of her paintings. In Madani’s world, exaggerated phalluses abound, human excrement is commonplace, and expressive yellow lines connote piss and saintly ecstasy—smartly conflating the two à la Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ. Many of the compositions mimic Christian iconography (mainly the Virgin and Child, and Christ’s crucifixion), but are presented scrambled, referencing S&M culture and scatology. Santa Claus also gets reimagined, depicted wielding Justin Timberlake’s “Dick in a Box” to mask indiscriminate urination.
Madani’s subjects are almost exclusively male and rendered in a painterly style that borrows heavily from comic books—a style most often associated with the hyper-masculinity that she skillfully mocks. Beyond the babies covering themselves in feces and young children with massive genitalia, her adult figures are infantilized, depicted bald and nude or clad solely in diaper-like loincloths. Above this filth, the smiley face reigns, mocking and masking Madani’s figures with inhuman persistent cheerfulness. Despite its grotesquerie, the show feels light and playful, studded with works that deliver a chortle of laughter even as they prey on our most immature and childish impulses.
Tala Madani: Smiley has no nose runs July 18 – August 29, 2015 at David Kordansky Gallery (5130 W Edgewood Place, Los Angeles, CA 90019)