Hanya El Ghamry
“Our skin can “remember” the mutations of the moments it has suffered. In the process of remembering, we may create a space where we can probe our identities vis-à-vis the world, discussing the illusions created by our memories which are nearly always based on fragments of our reality. My work exposes the metaphorical that hides beneath the physical, the one representing society, its customs, traditions, conventions, and factors conditioning it. The installation draws attention to memories in a forgotten state, and the failure to track down the absent moments that are very evident in one’s personal and cultural history. “
Using found linen fabric from her family’s collection, Cairo-born artist ElGhamry paints and imprints on it in latex, creating a ‘skin’ that holds fragmented memories. The linen recalls bandages, mummies and modern funeral wrappings. The shadows cast by the linen draped on wooden structures (reminiscent of abandoned furniture) are like a parallel world, haunting but ungraspable. A talented curator as well as an amazing artist, Hanya is my assistant curator for the Alchemy! exhibition in London May 2022 and works as a curator in Cairo.
“My final work is an installation is based on the ceramic pattern Blue Willow. This took as its starting point my finding several ceramic fragments with this pattern, whilst Mudlarking: searching the tidal riverbed on the river Thames.
Blue Willow is a Chinoiserie pattern, manufactured in large numbers from the 18th century onwards, representing an oriental landscape as imagined by the British people at the time.
I have organized my research into a sort of detective workspace, in an attempt to explore the history of the European passion for Chinoiserie. I offer clues to attempt to make audiences aware of this history, providing an opportunity to understand and rethink. Such as the porcelain fragments; the footage shows people using the porcelain; the outfit worn whilst Mudlarking; and the game, music, Disney animated film and children’s programme about the blue willow pattern.”
As the current holder of the Mona Hatoum Bursary, Shengjia Zhang’s work is inspired by investigating marginal materials from an auto-ethnographic perspective. An earlier project saw him create temporary shrines around the city, with small offerings such as incense, fruit and rice. These are based on the folk traditions in Guangdong, his home region of South China. Despite the tumultuous social and political change in China since the 20thC, the folk tradition of creating shrines for local deities has persisted. In the UK however, Zhang saw that this was not the case. Thanks to the Reformation, industrialisation and so on, such shrines have long disappeared from the British landscape. However he saw the potentiality for shrines within the city, and created small temporary shrines from street furniture and objects in the city topography. He has published a marvellous book which documents hundreds of shrines which he created.
Spanish artist Sol Mussa makes documentary films, and mixed media installations. Her piece for the MFA show is a construction made up of a collection of porn magazines. “By showing these images in the gallery, her work brings what is felt to be ´the dirty´ to the clean white space, allowing the invisible to be visible, the unvalued to be valued.”
The work has strong aesthetic qualities, the solidity and thickness of the work and the sheer volume of the magazines she has used, counters the idea that the images are ephemeral. With this work she reminds the viewer that though the images may be fleeting and easily destroyed, the exploitation invovled is very much solidified and omnipresent.
Sarah-Lou Sasha Maarek
Trained initially as an architect, Maarek is a highly talented artist with an acute understanding of space and environment. I was fortunate to exhibit her work in the ALchemy! exhibition in London in May 2022.
“MadLab3 is the third narrative-object in a series of fiction installations exploring cathartic encounters as a tool of self-reflection on the myth of the creator and its creature. As a chimaera of uncanny references it is inspired by the fortune teller automaton – once a coin is inserted the silicone tail comes alive, splashing a corrosive liquid inside its steel enclosure to rust it over time, resulting in a chaotic, entropic and robotic performance. This metaphoric tale underlines both the human fascination for hubristic creation and our mechanisms of projection onto the otherness. The audience takes part in the narrative and becomes the creator, giving life to the creature.”
I first encountered John Costi’s remarkable performance at the MFA mid-term open studio and was fascinated by his performative installation work. John writes “My work tackles themes from addiction, criminality, mental health and masculinity, almost always in the social sphere the work is about weaponising trauma and reappropriating memories and triggers. Personal and autobiographical, the aim is always to heal from the work.”
In the MFA final show, Costi created an “Everything Must Go” installation with drawers full of flotsam and jetsam, objects which may or may not have sentimental value, and invited the audience to create totems, art or assemblages from them.
“The perpetual ‘CLOSING DOWN SALE’ and the peripatetic mantra of ‘EVERYTHING MUST GO!’ refer directly to the state of limbo that this bad movie we call the material plane has us suspended in. It also illustrates the impossibilities that the art world provides working-class artists.” Costi’s point about working class artists is a very important one. We all need to hear more from him.
Yufei Qi was born in Fujian China and studied at Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts before moving to London for her MFA. Her work takes the chair as the starting point to explore and study the sense of alienation that can easily inhabit common experience.
She cuts and reassembles the chair into a new form. “The chair is still a chair, but it is no longer a traditional chair. It is endowed with the tangle of human nature and the alienation of thinking. The chair realizes that it is a chair, and constantly changes itself in self-entanglement, trying to get rid of the ideology given by humans.”
With this work, Qi also makes us consider the conventions what we think of as a chair, an object we take for granted but has not always existed in its current form. When did what we know as a ‘chair’ appear? Is it even necessary? Can anything be a chair?
The above are the pieces that intrigued and pleased me the most – very subjective I know! Here are some pictures of other things I liked. The show is on until Wed 22 June.
All photos by Gillian McIver ©theartraveller unless otherwise indicated.