Ahmed Alsoudani is a friend of mine from my days at MECA - he was a painting major who graduated a year ahead of me. We were in several of the same classes, and we even took a trip to Vinalhaven together with a couple of other folks from the print department to meet Robert Indiana, in 2004. I want to tell you some of my memories and impressions of Ahmed, so you can know you read it here first, before his biography comes out, and indeed it will, because...
Ahmed is now an international ART STAR!!!
Ahmed is now an international ART STAR!!!
So without further ado, here is a sort of free write, sort of open letter to Ahmed:
A wall of raw and distorted figures as I come up the stairs to the third floor and hear you tell the professor in your thick accent that one of these figures, the one with the open crying mouth, is your mother. I am fascinated - I have not met you yet. We are soon placed in the same silkscreen class, and I learn that you are from Baghdad. Baghdad! The war is just one year old, and your family is still there. Wow, intense. You refuse to follow the instructions for the assignments - to the frustration and amusement of our professor, you do your own thing. You hit it off immediately with my eccentric friend Carlo Pittore, who we've invited to come into the print department to speak about his Mail Art. I am touched by this.
Pungent cologne and large ragged scars like flames licking across your forearms. I wonder, what happened? What happened? You won't talk about it. You come to school exhausted and tell me that you have not slept because you are putting yourself through school by working the overnight shift at a youth center, and at a nursing home. You tell me how you dance and sing silly songs for the old men in the nursing home, and how they look forward to you coming in, and how they love that. This makes me love you. You are the same age as my oldest son, but you seem older. You seem very old. And then, very young, as you ask me if I think you have a chance in winning the heart of the tattooed beauty in our art history class. You like her sooo much, do I think that she would go out with you? You miss your mother,
and I am a pale
(literally and figuratively)
You brag that you do not do the readings required for your academic classes and I, being the type A, follow the rules achiever, am aghast. How can you pass? You tell me that you read just the first page, and early on in the class you raise your hand and share about this bit that you've read, then settle back and are quiet for the rest of the class, and it seems to all that you are up to speed. But how do you do the exams, then, Ahmed?? I ask, incredulous. Oh, I just wing it, I know how to write about most anything. And it's true, you can write about anything. You know more about the history of our country than any of us and put us all to shame.
But then! You come and ask me for help with the art history final! You've done none of the readings, and I say, gloatingly, aHA! Your system failed you this time, Ahmed! And I'm tempted to let you suffer the consequences, but give in, as you beg, and give you the info you need to complete the exam.
(I hope you remember this now that you're FAMOUS! :^)
There was that day in the elevator, just after graduation, when I said, I noticed that you were not on stage to get your diploma! and you said that you did not want to attend, because your family could not be there, that it felt too sad, that you didn't want people feeling bad for you. And then you showed me your grades - you were livid because you'd received a B- in painting.
A B MINUS! You said, indignant. Outraged. How dare she!
I am a better painter than she is!
I reassured you that most likely the grade had nothing to do with your painting skills, and just maybe had more to do with those little details you liked to ignore, such as those pesky reading assignments, and putting in your required studio hours at school (you preferred to work at home). Professors take note of those sorts of things when grading, Ahmed! But, boy, were you pissed. (This is something that I admire about you to the point of awe, Ahmed. You have confidence in your work. You told me that you never submitted work to juried shows because you did not want to be rejected. Not that you feared rejection, but because you knew how subjective that process is, and you already knew your work was good. You wanted people to come to you for your work, not the other way around. Bravo!)
So I convinced you not to confront your painting professor that day and urged you to go talk to your advisor, and you thanked me later, saying that you and he talked for over an hour, and that he put it all in perspective and told you that in the scheme of things, it would never matter.
And was he right!
You went on to Skowhegan, and then to Yale. Next thing you know you were showing in NYC, and London, and Berlin, and the rest, as they say, is history.
P.S. Hey, Ahmed, If you ever come back to Portland, look me up! You always wanted me to do your portrait, but we never managed to get it on the books. We'll make it happen!