Tala Madani is a Los Angeles-based artist who was born in Tehran, Iran. She makes satirical paintings and hand drawn animations of figurative images which reflect on gender, masculine authority, clashes of culture, and political authority. Her paintings are mostly of naked, bald, stocky, and libidinous middle-aged men who are engaged in acts that push them to the limit. She combines slapstick humor with violence, perversity, and scatological transgressions to show contemporary power imbalances.
Madani studied calligraphy as a girl in Iran and drew and painted when she was in high school. In 1994, she and her mother moved to the United States and settled in Monmouth, Oregon joining an uncle who was teaching at a local university. Madani did not plan to study art in college but won a full scholarship to Oregon State University where in 2004 she received her B.F.A. as a double major in art and political science. In 2006, she received an M.F.A. from Yale University.
Madani starts her paintings with simple ideas drawn in several sketch books. She draws directly onto the canvas without making preparatory drawings. She paints in quick gestures using the brush more like a pencil giving her pictures movement, sequence, and speed. Her figures are flat in the style of Persian or Arab paintings. She is not concerned about perspective. For her, painting is about the transference of energy. Her sketchbooks serve as a visual archive of her paintings: those that have been completed and those that will be worked on in the future.
Madani’s paintings are often darkly lit showing expressionistic caricatures of machismo. The people she paints – usually men but sometimes babies – wreak havoc on any situation. Liquids are expelled freely as oozing paint doubles as bodily fluids, food, or stains. Her “Cake Men” series show crude men engaged in absurd and gross activities using erotic gestures, crawling on hands and knees, leering at little girls, or having bloody innards revealed.
Sometimes her drawings are transformed into stop-motion animations, echoing cartoons and cinema. She draws her animations frame by frame. She tells stories of small calamities that are both comic and ghoulish. One animation shows a young girl in a movie projected on a screen in a darkened theater. The girl is watched by both an older man and a younger one. The girl leans towards them in a monstrous way and bursts out from the movie screen into their space, scooping them both up and pulling them up her dress. They have totally disappeared. The girl then returns as a placid, pop culture image.
Madani received a Tiffany Foundation grant, Art Pace Residency, British School of Rome Residency, among others. She has had major exhibitions at the MIT List Center for Contemporary Art, CAM St. Louis, Nottingham Contemporary, Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Moderna Museet in Malmo, Stedelijh Museum, Venice Biennale, MoMA PS1 in New York, Liverpool Biennial, and The New Museum in New York. Her paintings were viewed in the 16th Istanbul Biennnial in Turkey.
Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art is exhibiting her work in a 15-year survey, “Tala Madani: Biscuits,” from September through mid-February, 2023.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Modern Museet, Tate Modern, the Stedelijk Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, among others.