This Green Is Not Green

20 x 35 cm (each)

In a letter Shakir Hassan Al Saʿid wrote to me from Amman, dated October 16, 1996, he drew a relationship between a garden he visited and his prayer rug. He identified the trees in the garden, in ‘various shades of green,' as he wrote, with the motifs embroidered in the rug. As I returned to the letter over the years, I found that there is an important difference between those two greens, and between garden and the rug. I tried to explain this difference in a reply I wrote in 2004: the garden belongs to the natural world, and therefore has a physical logic, while the rug belongs to the human world and is a symbolic construction.

Re-reading the letter in summer of 2020, the idea came to me of articulating the difference between the green of the garden and the green of the rug by playing with the language we use to talk about color. On the cover of the book is a work in which the Arabic word for ‘green’—akhḍar—is formed using fluorescent lighting but the light is in fact red, in order to dramatize or illustrate the discrepancy between the organic and the symbolic, between the natural phenomenon of the light and the linguistic designation of the color.

I used the word akhḍar in reference to a series of oil paintings Al Saʿid made over the 1990s. They contain the names of colors written in colors other than those they name; for instance, the Arabic word for yellow—aṣfar—was written in orange. For a long time, I was haunted by those words in the paintings, by the difference between the name and the color. 

Al Saʿid’s concern had been semiotic; he was interested in language. But in this work, I wanted to make a point about color: about the meaning of green, and the difference between the green of plants, which has an organic basis, in the chlorophyll the plants contain, and the green created by human beings which has a symbolic basis. This relationship between the organic and symbolic is the focus of my current research.