Shadi Al-Atallah's newest solo show, Fistfight, begins with an excerpt from The Epic of Gilgamesh and seems apt to start right here: “huge arms gripped huge arms, foreheads crashed like wild bulls, the two men staggered, they pitched against houses, the doorposts trembled, the outer walls shook, they careened through the streets, they grappled each other, limbs intertwined, each huge body straining to break free from the other’s embrace. Finally, Gilgamesh threw the wild man and with his right knee pinned him to the ground. His anger left him. He turned away. The contest was over.”

Having met Shadi a few times in London over the last few years, there is a balance between rage, humor, anger, a grip, a pulse and passion their works. The struggles seen in Gilgamesh aren't unlike the struggles we see today, whether it be space, identity, movement or just plain confrontation. Shadi is working with the idea of controlled violence, and I get the sense that they are aware of what the world around them is presenting, the conflicts both internal and external, and finds that through making art, the confrontations themselves are just a bit more controlled, more theatric, more epic. As Guts Gallery notes, "Throughout Fistfight, Al-Atallah explores the rigid distinction between the spaces where violence is permitted and the spaces in which it is not." 

This interests me as a writer and observer of art, and has always interested me in terms of Shadi's brilliant works on canvas here (and in the past, works on paper). They are controlling historical events, historical sentiments, the past we bring with us into the future. In Fistfight, the conflict feels rather internal, and the feelings individual, and yet there is a universality that is ever so present.

On this episode of Radio Juxtapoz, Doug Gillen speaks with Shadi on the subject of Fistfight, their evolotion in the works and the move from the Middle East to London. —Evan Pricco

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The Radio Juxtapoz podcast is hosted by FIFTH WALL TV's Doug Gillen and Juxtapoz editor, Evan Pricco. Episode 119 was recorded in September 2023 in London. Follow us on ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠@radiojuxtapoz⁠⁠⁠