Dania Shah


In this project the ‘Site’ is a piece of paper with a drawing that has been drawn and shown to public but then erased afterwards.


The inspiration behind this is the conceptual art piece ‘Erased De Kooning’ in which the artist ‘Robert Rauschenberg erases and completely annihilates a drawing by De Kooning.

98.298_01_B02 Above : “Erased De Kooning.” Painting of De Kooning erased and framed. Slight marks left.

Why a De Kooning and not a Rauschenberg piece?

“Rauschenberg first tried erasing his own drawings but ultimately decided that in order for the experiment to succeed he had to begin with an artwork that was undeniably significant in its own right.”

-source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/25846#ixzz3IgxCmIGiSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

The act of erasing or ‘destroying’ a piece of art work is also an act of creating a new piece of art. So is this process a process of destruction or creation?

What makes an art work an art work? And is the act of erasing it an act of madness or the evolution towards a new form of art? Since it has already been reenacted it is already an evolutionary art form. And if the art is significant and precious, it can only be called preposterous and mad.

Through this project I am investigating these issues and exploring the concept of art and the role of the artist.


My site project was pieces of art, mainly drawings on paper. The intervention was the act of erasure on these significant drawings. I was inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Erased De Kooning.’ In this conceptual art work, Raushcenberg contacts a famous abstract expressionist artist. This artist is Willem De Kooning. He then ask him for a piece of his work he is willing to have erased. Willem agrees, surprisingly for Rauschenberg and he begins the destruction of the art piece. De Kooning makes sure to part with a significant art work and one that is hard to erase, a mixed media.

What was highly interesting about this conceptual art piece was that Rauschenberg explains that even if he were to just walk upto De Kooning’s door with this concept in mind and De Kooning were to reject his proposal that alone would be his conceptual piece.

The execution wasn’t as important as the inception of the idea. The idea itself is the main component of any art. Without the idea, the art is null.

Although my concept stems from a religious doctrine. This is the prohibition of figurative drawings, paintings, sculptures in Islam. Countries adhering to the prohibition or the Shariah ruling behind this, had the prohibited art destroyed, in fact the very first destruction of ‘figurative art’ has been mentioned in the religious scriptures. Abraham’s destruction of the idols was perhaps the most controversial beginning of the ‘act of symbolic destruction’. This is mentioned in the Quran, whereby God was pleased with him, but the polytheists were enraged. It was as if he had murdered his forefathers and the very essence of existence.

Fast forward to the descendent of Abraham, the final prophet in Islam, the prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) reenacted this destruction in the Holy Kaabah in Makkah where hundreds of idols resided at that time. This was the end and the beginning of a new era of worship and the destruction and start of a symbolic idea. The destruction of symbolism of idol worship and the beginning of the symbol of the Kaabah as a sacred area denoting the oneness of God.

How does this relate to my concept?

The relation is of the two ideas, the first is the conceptual possibility that Rauschenberg presents to the art world, and the symbolism of destruction in Holy Scriptures. Both may be termed as acts of Madness. With relation to Erased De Kooning, the act of erasure can only be an act of madness to the art world if it is the conception of an idea that hasn’t been presented before. Similarly the act of destruction of religious symbols is an act of madness for the people who hold these beliefs firmly.

The main problem with the presentation of my idea could be the execution. The drawings used were figurative highlighting the religious symbol but the reaction of the audience when presenting the video documentation of the erasure was one of almost apathetic nothingness.

My purpose was not to gage a reaction but to present a slid, historical and symbolic concept which I even failed to deliver in words. However as an art project, the purpose of the artist is to execute an idea in such a way that it provokes a reaction or it makes the audience question or think about it profoundly. I feel like I failed to make that happen.

During the presentation, a third concept emerged. This was the identity of the artist through the art work. What makes an artist an artist? Many would point out the obvious, the art and the acclaim.

Vincent Van Gogh was barely recognized during his time, it was only later when his art reached the time frame of modernity that people lauded it as one of the best works of art in the art world. Sadly he wasn’t even around to learn of his fame, but is that supposed to be reason for sadness? Is it supposed to be fame that creatures an artist into ‘an artist?

What if the art work were to be destroyed, what if Vincent Van Gogh had painted, exhibited and burnt all his work. In the time when there wasn’t even technology to document the work.

Who would Vincent Van Gogh be then? A madder artist than he already is claimed to be? Would the very act of burning be considered a brilliant conceptual art piece in this modern art world scenario but the act of madness before?

However, because of the execution and maybe due to the public intervention other students executed that stood out more in class, mine seemed to fizzle down to flat coke.

If I had another chance, I would either execute this concept, by showing the destruction of an art work in public or letting art work decay on its own, be eaten away by insects or burnt or wither away, or fly away with the wind.

Secondly I would try another conceptual idea relating to religious beliefs which is interviewing people of different faiths and asking them about other religions. This documentation would be significant because most don’t open up about religion because it leads to debate and hurt feelings. Also the day to day comments and interactions on religious beliefs have a symbolic language of their own. I would also take this further and document the rituals that they would perform of other religions aside from their own. This is inspired by the ‘hijabi’ move that Australian non muslim women did, which was to cover their heads the way muslim women do, in solidarity if the act of racial violence against muslim hijabi women in Australia. The documentation of their experiences was an interesting psychological and social concept.


“An empty canvas is full.” – Robert Rauschenberg

What is the identity of an artist? Is an artist defined by the art work they produce?

Art is defined by its visually engaging aesthetics and artists by the manipulation of mediums which produce aesthetically engaging work.

When this dynamic is turned inside out, how can one identity the artist? How is one able to identify the art?

I have explored the conceptual art work of Robert Rauschenberg, best known for his pop art in the 60’s. He used non- traditional objects and questioned the distinction between art and everyday objects.[1]

My Site Project is heavily influenced by Rauschenberg’s controversial art project, “Erased De Kooning.” In this project Rauschenberg approaches De Kooning, a well-known abstract expressionist, and asks him for a piece of art that he (Raushenberg) can erase.

“Destruction is another alternative [to what it is].”[2]

Before venturing into another artist’s work, he tried erasing his own, but he soon realized that his work wasn’t important enough for him. “It’s going to be a De Kooning, if it is going to be an important piece.” [3]

De Kooning selects a current painting that has significance to him. “I want it to be something I’ll miss.”[4]

De Kooning’s painting, besides being a personally significant one, is filled with crayon, paint, pencil and other mediums. Therefore, it is a difficult painting to erase.

“I was trying to bring drawing into the all whites.” Rauschenberg explains, transforming the act of erasure, as not only an ‘act’ but an artistic process. Like mixing two colors to make one, Rauschenberg manipulates the forms and colors to transform into an all-white surface.

My site project deals with bringing a drawing into a non-existent form, similar to Rauschenberg’s. However, I used my personal pencil drawings to erase. The site was the paper and the intervention is the act of erasure.

For Rauschenberg the act of erasing was ‘Poetry.’

It may be an act of ‘Poetry’ because for some it may signify the inevitability of death and erasure of everything in the past. All that exists in the present will one day become the past.[5]

For me, the act of erasing my own drawings was more than just ‘poetry’, it was a spiritual journey. For others it may be madness. “Folly is so human that it has common roots with poetry and tragedy; it is revealed as much in the insane asylum as in the writings of a Cervantes or a Shakespeare, or in the deep psychological insights and cries of revolt of a Nietzsche.”[6]

Every artist preserves a history of their artistic journey, from the moment they started drawing to an exhibition of their work as a well-known artist. Our identity is formed by our artistic objects. What if one were to erase everything they were known for? Like an earthquake destroying villages, lives and identities to create something new. Before the Big Bang there was nothing. Then the universe exploded, expanded, the creation of galaxies, stars, the planets, the sun, the moon, the earth, us.

Before a novel is filled with words, before a canvas is filled with paint, it is already done. And when it is done, it cannot be completely undone. Even if someone was to erase a present object, the marks would remain, preserved in an alternate universe. Everything we once knew, everything created and destroyed suspended in a universe invisible to the eye.

My drawings transformed into bits of erasure, leaving light marks on the page, its value and skill diminishing. What was left of my identity?

I have struggled with identity my entire life, moments of drunken spiritual ecstasy, followed by faithless despair. This is translated into the project, me as the drawing; a whole, structured being, the marks left after erasure; shedding old skin, becoming new. Like trees shedding their leaves in the winter.

The project is reflections on art’s decay and renewal, just as everything has a period of decay and growth, or growth and decay, so does art. This process is necessary sometimes in an artist’s life.

The act of erasure or ‘destruction’, besides the aforementioned metaphorical connections is further symbolic of sacred, religious laws. According to Islamic principles, figurative art (drawing, sculpture etc) is prohibited because of the concept of ‘idol worship’. In the Quran, God is pleased with Abraham’s destruction of the idols that his people worshipped, because he created a new belief system which rejected the previous. The new belief of One God. The Holy Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him) destroyed idols in the Holy Kaabah replaying Abraham’s act as another victorious leap of the Islamic faith.

Rauschenberg’s ‘Erased De Kooning and my own art project is symbolic for the foundation of new beginnings. Rauschenberg may have intended to create a landmark for his role as an emerging conceptual artist in the art world, through the creation of absence in another artist’s piece. Destroying old structures to build new ones. While I, portray conceptually, the building of a new me, through the erasure of my past. Differences emerge between our work as he uses another artist’s painting while I rely heavily on my own work for a personal symbolic gesture to my project. For him, De Kooning’s painting was ‘important’ to erase, but for me, my drawings are more important to me than anyone else’s, hence tying in with the importance of any given art object to eradicate it.

Although the concept is densely layered, I would execute the project in a different way now. Instead of simple drawings, heavily painted canvases would be erased or burnt slowly to create a profound effect on the audience. To show decay, materials that eat away the art would be used. I would document this through a video or as a sculpture or an installation.

[1]”Robert Rauschenberg.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 09 Dec. 2014 http://www.biography.com/people/robert-rauschenberg-9452410#synopsis [Date Accessed: 12th December 2014]

[2] Interview by Karl Benjamin. Rauschenberg on ‘Erased De Kooning’. http://artforum.com/video/id=19778&mode=large&page_id=20 [[Date Accessed: 12th December 2014]

[3]Interview by Karl Benjamin. Rauschenberg on ‘Erased De Kooning’. http://artforum.com/video/id=19778&mode=large&page_id=20 [[Date Accessed: 12th December 2014]

[4]Interview by Karl Benjamin. Rauschenberg on ‘Erased De Kooning’. http://artforum.com/video/id=19778&mode=large&page_id=20 [[Date Accessed: 12th December 2014]

[5] Daviso, Jessica. “Erasure as an Act of Creation: Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning & the Presence of the Past.”

http://www.academia.edu/7046060/Erasure_as_an_Act_of_Creation_Rauschenberg_s_Erased_de_Kooning_and_the_Presence_of_the_Past [Date Last Accessed: 12th December 2014]

[6] Foucault, Michel. “Madness and Civilisation”. Vintage Books, New York.

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