Geometry and Symmetry — First Structure
Symmetry and equality can be seen in Araeen’s ‘First Structure’, a piece that became the primary form for many subsequent works. Seemingly simple, this work opens up a multitude of interpretations that shed light on the artist’s way of thinking.
The discovery of his own sculptural language was closely connected with Araeen’s embrace of a political stance that recognized American imperialism as a destructive force both in culture and international relations. While he would come to be more outspoken on these issues later, the geometry of First Structure provides a window on his views.
Courtney J. Martin draws a clear parallel between Araeen’s politics and First Structure’s outline. ‘The X’s formed by the crossing diagonals in First Structure may refer to Malcolm X or Michael X, not so much as a literal transference of the symbol, but as a rejection of the various meanings that had been read onto Araeen’s work via his person', she writes. 'Just as Malcolm X’s invocation of the letter was a rejection of a so-called slave name and an acknowledgment of the absence of an African name, Araeen’s X acknowledged the ability of abstraction to convey meaning without representation'. In London, Araeen was unpleasantly surprised to find that his abstract work was often explained by his Muslim country of origin and the prohibition on figurative art in the Quran. Viewers also commented on his art's fragmentary character, explaining this through his experience of Pakistan’s partition from India. Araeen quickly found that artists from the so-called Third World were denied the right to purely conceptual thinking.
The use of a diagonal also connects Araeen to early Revolutionary abstraction, the diagonal composition being widespread in Suprematism and Constructivism. A surprising use of «X» as both form and artistic statement can be found in the work of Nikolai Suetin, a disciple of Malevich. His abstract drawing from 1924 contains the following statement: “Neither the absence of an object, nor an object. But what is it? I say X. X means the sum of my pictorial thought projected on the world and the answer to the question of interacting with modernity”. Suetin probably meant that his Suprematist constructions are to be seen primarily as ideas that operate in the world without being purely intellectual or imposingly material. Araeen also has no special relationship with texture, opting to use any medium that is sufficient for the idea's implementation.