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Michael Ashkin

(American, b.1955)

Adjnabistan study #2

Recycled cardboard, gypsum and glue mounted to gypsum board with metal brackets fabricated by the artist
Signed and dated “M. Ashkin | ‘05” on the underside
Overall: 15 x 22 x 12 inches (38.1 x 55.88 x 30.48 cm)

Executed in 2005, this work is unique.

Price on request


Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

Joel and Sherry Mallin, The Mallin Collection, New York and London (from the above in 2005)

Sale, New York, Sotheby’s, A Life in Art: The Mallin Collection, 21 June 2023, lot 142

Acquired from the above sale


New York, Andrea Rosen Gallery, Michael Ashkin: Adjnabistan | New Sculpture, 06 May – 18 June 2005


Michael Ashkin’s work spans various media, including sculpture, installation, photography, video, poetry, and text. His work addresses issues of landscape and urbanism, specifically the intersection of subjectivity with the social, economic, and political production of space.

In 2005, the artist was quoted about the his Adjnabistan project and the present work:

“Adjnabistan” is the name of the anti-nationality I invented with a friend while traveling through Iran in 1978 during the last months of the Shah’s reign. Derived from the Arabic/Farsi “adjnabi” (“foreigner,” “stranger,” or “other”), this land of impossible origin proved useful since as an American one needed to avoid treacherous political discussions. If said with the proper lightness of tone, “Adjnabistan” could provoke a smile or even be accepted without question. In any event, I could not be accused of falsehood or insincerity, since the more I used this word, the more its inherent alienation seemed appropriate to the situation. As I traveled, I developed mental images of this imaginary land and though they shifted as in a dream, they empathetically incorporated the political and economic distress evident in the landscapes through which we passed.
Recently, I decided to revive the idea of Adjnabistan in order to encourage its utopian possibilities. For me, Adjnabistan begins as a process of thinking and speculation not tied to a specific physical manifestation. If for a time it assumes sculptural form, this is only to establish a preliminary relation to the material world — Adjnabistan aspires, finally, to overcome the limitations of art. Its future lies in the reintegration of art, politics, ethics, philosophy, technology and daily life when the separations implied in its name, Adjnabistan, become meaningless and disappear.
The first experiment involved an urban model functioning as a three-dimensional drawing. As a basis of working, I acknowledged and attempted to offset two related and oppressive qualities of utopian thought: first, that the logic of spatial organization is political and is based on exclusion as much as inclusion; second, that utopian projects develop an idealist space at the expense of the material reality. The project thus became a dialectical thinking through of the conflict that exists between imaginary models of societal perfectibility and the structural limits of reality. To illustrate the extreme version of the schism between ideas and means, I imagined Adjnabistan as a community at the far end of exclusion, i.e., as a squatter/refugee/concentration camp built from used or abandoned shipping containers, situated in a fringe wasteland. I cast them in the form of a miniature urban model (made from cardboard on a sheetrock base) in order to give material form to my imaginings and register historical evidence. This model was treated as ongoing and could be in theory be endlessly modified. (The small piece exhibited here is a study for that larger model.) The project developed accordingly, with three forces asserting themselves: the inhabitants’ hopes and aspirations; the social, political, and economic constraints they encountered; and finally, my own conflicting interests and desires. As the process unfolded, fences were built, torn down and rebuilt to new purpose. Watch towers became guard towers. Family compounds became prisons. Structures too grandiose were dismantled and scavenged. The town underwent cycles of overflow and attrition. Populations thrived, perished or set themselves adrift in the surrounding desert.

Michael Ashkin holds an MA in Middle East Languages and Cultures from Columbia University and an MFA in Painting/Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Since 2006 he has taught as a Professor in the Department of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University.