The 1001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights, are a collection of 1001 stories narrated by Shahrazad to King Shahriyar over the course of 1001 nights. The collection starts with a frame tale introducing King Shahriyar who, despairing of women because his wife betrayed him, resolves to marry one woman each night and kill her the next day. As he is running out of women, Shahrazad offers herself to him as she has a plan. She tells him a series of stories that each end with a cliffhanger and flow into each other like nested Russian dolls and then merge and dissolve to the extent that he doesn’t quite know if one story is the beginning or the middle or the end of another tale.
She immerses him in her worlds and he is hooked, so he can’t kill her as the stories are so interesting and he wants to hear how they continue and she survives another night to tell the tale – teaching and showing him about different ways to look at the world – until 1001 nights pass and he is a changed and humbled man. She becomes his queen and is mother to his children who were also born during the 2 years, 8 months and 28 days of the consecutive 1001 nights.
I am using the frame story and motifs of the 1001 Arabian Nights to generate 1001 paintings and artworks and proposing a new, visual reading of the Nights where Shahrazad the storyteller is all-powerful in that she holds the key to the entire 1001 Nights in her head, just as the artist can be all-powerful in the creation of multiple worlds and works. I believe there is great power in paintings; the painted object itself has other functions (didactic, magical, ritual, healing, storytelling…) and the site of a painting (in a book, on the wall, in your pocket, on a scroll, on a screen) also influences the transmission of this power. Additionally, painting ‘props’ or ‘marginalia’ around a painting takes the form of supplementary works (brushes, calendars, cyanotypes, knotting, weaving, small sculptures, films, digital works…) and these bring the paintings and their stories to life in a way that amplifies this power and helps solidify it into memory.