Subliminal Picasso

Habib, Somayeh, & David
August 10, 2015

Habib related the visit to Montréal's Museum of Fine Art that he and my former classmate Somayeh had just taken. He coupled photos he'd shot on cellphone with running narration to share their experience:

"Here's the sculpture from the Rodin exhibition we saw," he said.

"Oh, the Thinker," I replied. "I can't recall... is that part of the museum's permanent collection or is it just part of a touring exhibition?"

"It's part of a temporary exhibition that's touring Montréal, now," Habib said.

Habib and Somayeh have just finished a three-day/two-night visit to Montréal. They came as Habib's mother had spent the past two weeks visiting the couple at their home in Québec City. The couple drove here to drop her off at Montréal's airport so she could catch her flight back to Tehran. I encouraged the two to linger for a few days to allow me to reciprocate their recent time hosting and spend further time catching up.

Somayeh & Habib Conclude Montréal
Visit with Backyard Hookah Session
"Have you heard word from your mother?", I asked Habib. "Is she finally back in Iran, yet?"

"Yeah, I've been sending her some of the photos I've been taking here on this visit to Montréal," Habib said.

"Well, I hope you didn't send your mom a photo of that Picasso that the museum keeps on display, did you?", I asked Habib in a voice laden with insinuation.

"The Picasso? Yeah we saw that one. We took a photo. See, here," Habib said, flipping repeatedly across his cellphone screen to find the very work I was talking about.

"You took a photo of this!", I said, further incredulous.

"Yeah, it's okay. The museum lets you take photos of the art," Somayeh said, not catching my point.

"But, did you send a copy of this photo to your mother/mother-in-law!", I asked the couple. "The Picasso showing prominent penises and vaginas?"

Neither of the two repsonded right away. Was it lack of understanding my English or, conversely, a full, utter comprehension of what I'd just said that kept them from saying anything?

"Here, let me show you," I said expanding into full-screen detail the photo that Habib had shot on his cellphone. "What do you call this?" I asked returning the phone to show enlarged, zoomed-in brushwork prominently depicting both male and female genitalia.

Habib, Somayeh, & David
The couple cracked into laughter. "We didn't see this!", Habib said. "Oh... "

"What, you didn't notice the bits at the core of the artwork? Didn't you read the description next to the artwork?," I said in mock chastisement. "I forget the exact words from when I last saw it. The caption said something about how when Picasso painted this in the '70s it was derided as representing his fading talent, showing how now that he was old and washed-up he was being obscene just for the purpose of being obscene. Personally, I think it's a wonderful work of art... but that's not how it was evidently received when he first painted it," I said.

"I... I didn't read the description. We didn't see this part of the picture," Habib replied, hurriedly. "We only had a short time so we raced through the museum and took lots of photos. But, we didn't read many of the descriptions," Habib said.

"You gotta read the captions!", I advised Habib.

The three of us regarded the phone one last time over heavy chuckling.