Mohammed Qutaish at Mmuseumm 2
By ADRIAN COLEMAN, NOV. 2016
Nestled behind the glistening condominiums and coffee shops, Courtland Alley is a detour from TriBeCa’s sanitized present. The side street, of medieval narrowness, is a ravine of graffitied security shutters and fire escapes. Pigeons aside, traffic is scarce. Yet occasionally, the solitude is broken by the opening of two hatchways. Behind are New York’s unlikeliest exhibition spaces. The first, occupying a former freight elevator, is Mmuseumm 1, a modern cabinet of curiosities. Its current display includes a bullion-shaped Trump chocolate bar, examples of Isis currency, and a taxonomy of cornflake specimens. The second, a vitrine-sized shop window, is Mmuseumm 2. Inside, assembled from hand-colored paper, is a boy’s model of an imaginary city.
Mohammed Qutaish is a Syrian adolescent. He constructed “Future Aleppo” in his family’s apartment while his hometown suffered relentless aerial bombardment. In contrast, Mohammed’s neatly-gridded buildings, confections of rose and yellow, have the whimsy of a Paul Klee painting. Their rooftops are equipped with the conveniences of helipads, solar panels, and pools. Mohammed envisions he and his friends swimming after school. At the bottom left, the Citadel, Aleppo’s ancient hilltop fortification, is delicately preserved.
“Future Aleppo” is so charming and utterly heart-wrenching for its negation of images beamed out of Syria. Photographs by the international press portray a rubbled wasteland. News agencies describe the Syrian Civil War as without end in sight. Yet Mohammed’s Aleppo River is an idyllic shade of aquamarine. His trees have the fluffiness of the Lorax’s beloved truffulas. Callous observers might dismiss the project as naive amusement, a boy’s daydream disengaged from the grim reality. Such cynics would be wrong. Mohammed was at his school when it was struck by a missile. In his family’s apartment, he cut and pasted to the sounds of shell blasts. Sometimes he was too frightened to continue but never indefinitely. “Future Aleppo” is not an act of blissful ignorance. It is absolute defiance, with a set of colored pencils.
Apparently, the four by four foot section shown at Mmuseumm 2 represents only a piece of a much larger model, replete with impressive skyscrapers and suspension bridges. The Syrian journalist and filmmaker Waad Alkateab helped smuggle out part of “Future Aleppo” as the Qutaish family evacuated earlier in 2016.
In the context of Manhattan, it is jarring to see a work of art and architecture so purely and unnecessarily hopeful. No agenda, no calculation, no economics exercise. Forget your green juice and your meditation app. The most affecting replenishment is hidden in the murky recesses of downtown. There is perhaps more bravery in a child’s paper city than in the artistic bombast of all New York. WM
For more information, visit www.mmuseumm.com/mmuseumm2
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Adrian Coleman is a painter and architect living in New York. His work has appeared, among other places, at the Brooklyn Museum in 2013.