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Exhibit, talk focus light on murdered journalist

Oct 04, 2019
“The Khashoggi Story: Wikipedia 25 — Madeha al-Ajroush,” a 2019 gouache on paper by Kenny Cole.

CAMDEN — Artist Kenny Cole of Monroe exhibits “The Khashoggi Story: Wikipedia 25” through Oct. 31 at Zoot Coffee, 31 Elm St. A corresponding conversation between Cole and activist El Fadel Arbab of Portland (by way of Sudan) is offered Wednesday, Oct. 16, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

One year ago on Oct. 2, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered after he entered the Turkish embassy in Istanbul in order to obtain an official document for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. His remains have never been located. Khashoggi was a critical voice against the Saudi government for their political persecution of journalists and progressives.

El Fadel will discuss his own experiences as an activist and his perspective on the murder. A survivor of genocide, El Fadel fled the Darfur region of Sudan at age 12. Cole will discuss how he came to create this project and the sources behind his imagery.

There have been hundreds of journalists murdered in the modern era. Cole stresses that the actions of the U.S. government show commerce trumps human rights. President Trump pointed out that Saudi Arabia agreed to spend and invest a record $450 billion in the United States: "We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

On exhibit are gouache drawings that represent the colleagues, compatriots and fellow dissidents that Khashoggi tried to speak out about and help, some of whom are currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Cole views the Khashoggi murder as an act involving two players, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia — one commits the crime and the other fails to act against it.

"The dynamic that animates this relationship is driven by commerce, pure and simple," Cole said. "I decided to guide my imagery based on [what comes up on] an Internet search for images using the key words 'corporate achievement.'"

Cole also looked at insignias, emblems and flags within both country’s governmental departments, agencies and branches. "[I] began to create imagery that was mostly symmetrical, often incorporat[ing] pyramids, stars, laurels and birds," he said.

An online search for the kind of Saudi nationals that Khashoggi would have alerted the world about landed Cole on a Wikipedia page listing 25 Saudi dissidents — hence the name of his exhibit. "For me this would be where Khashoggi left off and where I could begin, reading and learning about a culture whose resources we hunger after, yet whose society we hardly understand."

Each drawing is titled to represent a Saudi dissident listed on that Wikipedia page. Rather than creating illustrations that depict the specifics of each individual’s story, Cole chose to build generic compositions based on the core elements mentioned above. He also filtered in his ongoing motifs of tornadoes, arteries, strata, surveillance cameras and feathers.

"Common throughout many of the tableaux are the two prime power brokers depicted as emblematic twitter birds, posturing and preening within their sheltered heraldic realms. Meanwhile the world futilely looks toward them for answers to the calculated and gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi and ongoing harassment of dissident voices," Cole said.

The evening talk will be a unique opportunity for the local community to hear from someone with a direct and deep personal connection to the Arab world, who has survived state-sponsored violence.

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