faten hakimi

Scan 122

A selection of my written






reviews, articles, essays,


thoughts, and poetry.

By Faten Hakimi, Mar 21 2017 09:13PM

“When woman is made so ‘plurabelle’, so various in her beauty, she is generalised out of existence” -Wendy Steiner

He casually unveiled her, as if he has done it a hundred times before and she felt the cold metal of his watch run up her body. He walked her to the mirror and she looked at the space within the frame; a space that changed colours like a chameleon. She looked at her reflection, unable to recognise it. She did not recognise the fishnets caging her thighs nor the blood staining her lips nor the curls hanging by her chest like an unbroken chastity belt. “Do you see this beauty?” he asked. “Look, is there anything more beautiful?” He gazed into her eyes and saw the two emerald earrings his mother used to wear, her lashes were the black waves of the Black Sea and her bedouin gaze carried him to every city he has been to. She was pieces of him put together, like scents in a perfume becoming visible. “No there isn’t” she replied, “You are right, but you are also guilty”.

He was guilty of an association of ideas. And so are we. We link one image with another on the basis of their juxtaposition in our minds. Following David Hume’s philosophy, we do that not only with images, but with thoughts, sensory feelings and memories. Our minds, or more precisely, our imagination combines ideas together. In the process of superimposing these mental glitches onto our visual field we lose the identity of what we are looking at. We do not take it for what it is, but rather for what it is to us. Our self consciousness and unconsciousness put us in a state of pretence, both a blessing and a curse. For without this confused and chaotic imagination, life would be unbearable, yet the cost is authenticity and absolutism. And this has possibly been most evident in our discourse about beauty.

The pre-Modern art periods idealised the human figure, more precisely, the female figure, as a symbol of absolute beauty. The female, or the feminine, was the ultimate Supermodel, romanticised and idolised as the Goddess of Beauty. As Modernist ideology began, so did the female’s fall from grace. Leo Tolstoy, cast her as disastrous, unfit to endure time, to forever remain as beautiful. Therefore she could not transcend age and death, nor could she be a universal symbol of beauty. And this form, this creation on canvas, that artists have laboured for centuries to perfect was broken down. They were left with a void, an emptiness that obliterated with it man’s identity and initiated his quest to find it. The romanticism of art and the notion of it as the heightened sense of being remained unfettered. But the creation of absolute beauty, the supermodel, once being the form of a woman, was now replaced by line, colour and abstract thought.

“Why, what, after all, is a pretty woman? It’s a mere subjective impression - what you think of her. That’s what I paint, another kind of beauty of my own…[I]n my ideal, I…bring that beauty forth in terms of line or volume” -Andre Derain

The cruel modern world removed almost everything from the female form; beauty and transcendence. And so it began to impose or superimpose man-made elements, fetishes, and fantastical layers in the hope that they might withhold absolute beauty. This insatiable wandering is what French artist Johann Bouché-Pillon precisely and playfully unravels in his photographic work.

By Faten Hakimi, Mar 21 2017 09:04PM

"Every single man is but a blind link in the chain of absolute necessity by which the world builds itself forth. The single man can elevate himself to dominance over an appreciable length of this chain only if he knows the direction in which the great necessity wants to move and if he learns from his knowledge to pronounce the magic words that will evoke its shape." (Hegel)

But how do we pronounce these magic words? Are we innately predisposed towards achieving this higher level of existence? If a blink of an eye lasts about 300 milliseconds, we spend that one third of a second in blindness and throughout our waking hours we are continuously travelling back and forth between the real world and the darkness of the imaginary. We are constantly struggling between being submissive to the mechanism of reality and being driven towards evoking its shape. Our struggle is that of modern existence. And we try to raise ourselves from the nothingness modern man has become, not through the ability to change history or its direction, but through the power of reshaping it and reimagining it. However sometimes we lose ourselves in this process. We find ourselves in a strange place and we question our identity. We feel detached and our perceptions of the boundaries between the real and the unreal, between the self and the other, become blurred. We start to write with a different handwriting. Isn't this what is diagnosed as a dissociative disorder? Do we all suffer from it to some degree at some stage in our lives? And where do we find our answers? And while medical experts might prescribe selective serotonin inhibitors to treat the symptoms associated with dissociative disorders, artists use their art. Art becomes their, and our, Prozac; the magic words we need to pronounce.

**Photo Credits: Colleen Morice

By Faten Hakimi, Sep 21 2016 09:21PM

I have a little box.

Somewhere beneath my ribs.

Where I hide pictures of you, smiles of you, the aches of you, of us.

I have a little box.

Somewhere within my chest.

Where every night I cut through my breasts to hold it, to hold you, to hold us.

I drip within it the sky to saturate your absence with reality.

But damn the night skies for they know my little box has a lock, and you are not the key.

London. 19 September, 2016.

By Faten Hakimi, Dec 17 2014 11:16AM


You leave the exhibition asking for more. As if each room at the Tate is an unfinished declaration of love.

You can’t look at Sigmar Polke’s work the same way you do other artists. He is a figurative artist, an abstract artist, a filmmaker, and a photographer and not one particular style can define him. Pipe-smoking caterpillars, circus monkeys, and the sausage eating half-face are just some of the seemingly humorous characters left lingering in our minds as we come out the exit door. But Polke’s humour wasn’t sarcastic, it was a form of rebellion. His volatile artistic tendencies that leave us breathless in awe were his way of shedding each and every conceptual artistic form. It was his way of exposing the cliché that has become abstract art; just another stylistic form of design, another kitsch tendency.

A rumour in artistic circles over the past few decades is that American expressionist abstraction was sponsored by CIA objectives of promoting boundless constraints of thought and imagination (or at least giving the impression thereof), and a recent article published by Frances Stonor Saunders of The Independent confirms it. Let’s assume for a moment that is true, in which case the polarity found in Polke’s abstract works comes to life even more so. The tension he creates by using both politically dense images and apolitical expressionism such as that brought forward by American Liberalism is his way of deconstructing Constructivism and disturbing its iconic power. His misguiding approach to expressing his views was deliberate. He created a school of thought, a constant state of mind, in which we, as an audience, are propelled to always make and break ideas and to always question the cultural endeavours of local politics.

Polke’s art as set up in the Tate retrospective creates an intellectual stage. His works are in dialogue with each other and in conversation with us. They seem more interactive, allowing the gap between the artistic stage and the audience to narrow. The conversation brought forward by his art was also between two political structures, the more capitalist West and the state-aware governments of the East. The Capitalist stage seems lacking in ideology when compared to the monumental concreteness of the Soviet government, with its orchestrated abundance of “realism” and its propaganda-led images of glory and victory. The Capitalist stage seems empty and emancipated allowing you to step-up on it. Its a stage pretending to be strong and powerful, yet its power does not lie in its ideology but in our participation. As Mark Godfrey states in his essay, ‘From Moderne Kunst to Entartete Kunst: Polke and Abstraction': “for Polke the process was not about arriving at the essence of a form but a way to corrupt an image and create something new with it”. Polke’s artistic stage becomes a politically motivated facade for negotiating destruction, a destruction that doesn’t claim to provide an ideological truth, but brings us closer to it.

In the formal sense of the word, staging, or more precisely artistic staging, demands a subject. A subject demands representation and representation becomes a formulation. Polke wanted to rid his art of any formula by allowing us to explore through his journey and through his constant experimentation the abstract concreteness of Capitalist expressionist art. He was both an artist and a curator, and the mental space he creates lies outside any political structure, outside the gap. His art does not presume or predetermine an audience, it does not narrate a story nor an idea. His art simply and masterfully allows for an experience to happen. We begin to challenge the notions of probabilities and absolutes, and we begin to speculate.

But there is also magic to Polke’s creations. Some of them seem mythical and mystic. You first approach his work like a puzzle. You get drawn in by the random use of imagery, textures, and pigments. Although you try to learn as much as you can about these images and compositions, you eventually disregard their literal meaning, you go beyond the painting and directly into the socio-political questions they raise. This interaction is the staging between art and audience that Polke’s work humorously and mischievously develops. His art creates an apparatus of confrontation between withheld memories and the mental space in which they constantly rebel. And although some of his works portray a cosmic perspective whereby the surface of his canvases seem harmonious and static, the longer you look and the closer you look, you can see that from within, the particles are kaleidoscopic and volatile. We walk out the exit door mesmerised, and as if in a trance-like hallucinatory state, we crave to know more; more about Polke, more about his art, about ourselves and where we are.

“The lines of life are various; they diverge and cease

Like footpaths and the mountains’ utmost ends.

What we are here, elsewhere a God amends

With harmonies, eternal recompense, and peace.”

—Friedrich Hölderlin, “To Zimmer”

**Sigmar Polke, The Sausage Eater, 1963
**Sigmar Polke, The Sausage Eater, 1963

By Faten Hakimi, Sep 29 2014 09:34AM


Your name is Adam. You don’t see death, you feel it. Your name is Adam. You are deceiving and being deceived. You are a witness and a story-teller. Your name is Adam and you are making history. You are being killed and the media presents your murder as a strike. You don’t see death, you scream it. You are surrounded by bodies wearing your same uniform, wounded and destroyed. But the bodies vanish into data, and the decision of how your story is to be told is tied up to a certain political agenda; an agenda that calls for either enthusiasm or despair. You become marginalised, categorised, and eventually forgotten. When you are injured, they say you are disarmed. And when an enemy soldier is killed, they label him as cannon fodder. This alteration, not only in language, but also in the content of war images, shifts the moral perception from disastrous to perhaps necessary collateral damage.

Visual warfare plays the same game today as it did a hundred years ago during the First World War. For today, we live in a culture fostered with indifference. The media serves us just enough horror to satisfy the amount of compassion we are willing to share. We are insulated through distance and unfamiliarity. Yet images taken during warfare hold a certain power that is both cruel and just. When you see a picture of someone dying after gunfire or bombing, within that frame of space and time, they will forever be both dead and alive. Is it wrong to look at these images? Are we responsible? A photograph, for example, holds a truth; a truth that has been chosen to be shown to us. Selecting certain episodes from a story can altogether create another story. And hiding certain images from the full picture can altogether change our perception.

We seek to find the truth through witness statements and recollections. Bearing in mind that these spoken words, choice of imagery, or artistic gestures, carry the burden of the experience; the trauma, the pain, and the sentimentality. And in matters of war, if we are not given access to all information, if anything is being manipulated or censored or hidden, then we are being lied to. It is inevitable that even the artists sent to represent life on the front line are both deceiving and being deceived. And perhaps it is for this reason that Russian artist Kazimir Malevich developed Suprematism; to denote the abstractness of his present situation and the future; the abstractness of war, tragedy and untruths.

‘A Game in Hell. The Great War in Russia’ an exhibition held at The Gallery of Russian Arts and Design in London provides insight into the silent period of forsaken Russian achievements during The Great War and in the events leading up to the October Revolution in 1917. Bolshevik doctrine called for the censorship of all propaganda glorifying Russian military attainments during the War. Banning these posters, lubki, and photographs from mass circulation strengthened their position nonetheless. This exhibition looks at the tragic irony of revolutionary Russia and hence opens our eyes to how wartime propaganda is a game played by power.

The exhibition is curated by Prof John E Bowlt, Dr Nicoletta Misler, and Director of GRAD, Elena Sudakova. Most of the material on show comes from the collection of Sergey Shestakov who hopes that they will “encourage us to reconsider the relations between Europe and Russia...and remind us of the real threat of future world wars and their consequences.” Just like Rudolf Bauer’s non-objective artwork, these exhibits feel as if they have come out of imprisonment. They carry a resonating, multi-faceted significance. Troops were losing their lives in the trenches, artists were developing their art at home, and those who once designed patriotic posters were soon to give up God and the Tsar and offer their talents to the Bolshevik cause. Photographs taken during that period are relatively polite and reserved, showing Russian advancements in machinery, aeroplanes, and abstract aerial landscapes rather than the brutality of 4 million deaths. The work of Natalia Goncharova, however, manages to preserve the feelings associated with the war; ‘primitive’, powerful, and as Bowlt and Misler note, ‘apocalyptic’. She was able to translate the emotions of those dying at the front, not through satire or illustration, but through ambiguous mysticism.

So perhaps photography can hide brutal violence and horror, and perhaps the state can omit information, delete footage, ban books, hide artwork and burn posters, but the transfer of an emotion, from artist to viewer, from present to future will always remain. And this exhibition, has rendered clear that the lies and games of wartime propaganda can change our perception of history but not our reaction to it.

“Such a strange time it is, my dear!

They cut off the smiles from lips,

and the songs from throats!

We must hide our Emotions in dark closets!

They barbecue canaries

On a fire of jasmines and lilacs!

Such a strange time it is, my dear!

Intoxicated by victory,

Satan is enjoying a feast at our mourning table!

We must hide our God in dark closets!”

-Ahmad Shamlou

**Natalia Goncharova. 'Angels and Airplanes', 1914 // Image courtesy of GRAD.

By Faten Hakimi, Aug 10 2014 04:16PM


“There is no perfection, only life…” More than sixty years before Milan Kundera wrote these words, Kazimir Malevich was rebelling against the perfection by which life was defined. His work completed the troika, combining poetry and music, and was developed into a purely abstract form of expression, Suprematism. He undressed art of all preconceptions inflicted upon it throughout centuries of religious, social, and mental colonialism. And his art stands there, bare, naked, and proud. It overshadows any form of representation and reaches out to us as a pure unadulterated feeling.

Today, civilians are dying in Palestine, in Syria, in Iraq, and regardless of it being a consequence of Vladimir Putin’s defence mechanism or aggression, civilians are also dying in Ukraine. And today, the Tate Modern is holding a retrospective of Kazimir Malevich’s lifetime contribution to modern art history. Malevich’s art is intrinsically rooted in Russian politics from the Tsar Nicolas II’s autocratic rule, the outbreak of the first World War, the Bolshevik Communist Revolution, and Stalin’s consolidation of power. At this point in time of Russian politics where the Kremlin is threatened by the conceptual prowess of American democracy, where the fight for Donbass is a fight for Russia’s past and future, Malevich’s works are as relevant today as they were a century ago. And standing there in what could have been a room in a gallery in the Soviet Socialist Republic, looking at Malevich’s Black Square, we can not help but ask ourselves, do we live in a society where history is frozen?

Sponsored by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the Amsterdam Trade Bank, and curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Iria Candela, and Fiontan Moran, the Tate Modern is showcasing this lasting legacy until the 26th of October, 2014. The Eyal Ofer Gallieries have been divided into twelve rooms spanning the artistic lifetime of Kazimir Malevich. The centrepiece of the show is the Black Square. It is an artwork that holds within it the possibility to infinitely speculate the potential of artistic freedom. It is a coup d’etat in the form of a black square on a square canvas. Yet to truly appreciate the iconic significance of this piece, we must look at what came before and after it. Starting with his early paintings that were heavily influenced by the Impressionist movement and Cezanne and Monet, and ending with his return to more realist figurative painting (nonetheless Malevich signed these later works with a black square). But this is an exhibition spanning the entire lifetime of an artist, it is much more than experiencing a masterpiece. Every drawing exhibited, every shade of every colour, every shape and every cut-out provides insight into this beautiful mind.

2014. Room Eleven. Tucked away in the top right hand corner are three Russian propaganda posters by Malevich. 1933. USSR. Malevich titles these posters The Results of the First Five-Year Plan and the Objectives of the Second Five-Year Plan. Encouraging collectivism and sponsored by the country’s landlords, they were made to showcase the Republics agricultural developments. Did Malevich know that the artistic ideology he developed would be used to serve the demands of Stalins economical acceleration? These posters provide us with direct examples of politically applied art. However, Malevich masterfully created an artistic framework that adapts itself to both convention and change; change in this case was a change towards Communism.

“Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: The criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers. ” (― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

With this is mind, how would Kundera have reviewed Malevich’s work? Was Malevich proposing a political ideology? Probably not. Malevich created beauty; unconventional beauty. He created a beautiful thought that inspires a beautiful feeling; that of freedom. His work is the exteriorisation of the infinite space within our minds regardless of time and space, regardless of whether we are in Gaza, Duma, Mosul or Kiev. Malevich’s work gives us the possibility to transcend our modern definition of reality.

“We, like a new planet on the blue dome of the sunken sun, we are the limit of an absolutely new world, and declare all things to be groundless” ( - Kazimir Malevich, Anarkhiya)

By Faten Hakimi, Aug 10 2014 04:09PM

Anything could happen in that space. The ocean could be set on fire. Paradise could be in a drunken state, holding a jug of wine in its right hand and poppy flowers in its left. Even daylight could be covered with a twinkling night sky. Anything could happen in that rectangular space. Each pattern lay bare its secrets before my eyes. And I saw the future I never had, I fell even more in love, and for one heartbeat I became a green-winged magpie. I ran my fingers over every line on that carpet, and in that space where anything could happen, nothing mattered. There was safety in each repetition, a sense of harmony that allowed my mind to explore its infinite space. But just like the pattern had to repeat itself, the green-winged magpie that I had become, could not fly. Once again, I went back to being human. I always wondered, what would happen if that pattern was broken. What would happen if that centuries old tradition lost itself to modernity. And perhaps, Faig Ahmed’s work provided a glimpse into an answer. Two of his hand-made carpets, Hollow (2011) andTradition in Pixels (2011), were shortlisted for the Jameel Prize at the V&A Museum. The carpets start off with the traditional pattern, but then within moments of your eye moving up or down, that same pattern rebels against itself. It changes into pixels or a distorted hollowness, and like an auto-immune disorder, attacks its own purpose for existence. This disintegration heightens our sensibility towards experiencing freedom; freedom of creativity.

I walked across to the other side of the Porter Gallery to look at the work of Saudi artist, Nasser Al Salem. He also breaks down tradition, through a subtly subversive manner. He takes calligraphy, and its representation as the ultimate school of perfection, and simplifies it to its core; its meaning. The form his words take shape into is defined by the meaning that word holds. His art clearly keeps its respect for the tradition of calligraphy. However, it also carries a darkness. A sort of unadulterated instinct yearning to be released. Over the course of Islamic history, calligraphy was used as a graceful representation of this repression; be it mental, social, or political. Sorat Al-Rahman in The Noble Qu’ran reads the following:

Allah Most Gracious

It is He Who has taught the Koran

He has created man

He has taught him expression

This freedom of expression that God has given man, when used in art, was inflicted by strict rules, precise proportions, and mathematical formulas. Geometry became the artistic illumination of the Qu’ranic verses and calligraphy was used as a visual and linguistic form of expression. In 11th century North Africa, calligraphers created a script combining the Maghribi and the Kufic calligraphy styles. They intentionally elongated the “alif” which is the first letter of the alphabet (A). This exaggerated elongation in relation to the other letters developed a purely visual psychological tension, hence, offering some plastic freedom for the artist without compromising any linguistic value. Calligraphers, like Al Salem, contemplate the disintegration of tradition from within its seemingly dogmatic structure. And similarly, we reflect upon the space within our mind, a space crippled by the anatomy of the human body. Yet, the question always remains. How do we get closer to that space of absolute freedom trapped within us? Do we surrender to our state of being? Or do we rebel against it?

“Lying in this damp, sweaty bed, as my eyelids grew heavy and I longed to surrender myself to non-being and everlasting night, I felt that my lost memories and forgotten fears were all coming to life again…fear lest my bedclothes should turn into a hinged gravestone above me and the marble teeth should lock, preventing me from ever escaping; panic fear lest I should suddenly lose the faculty of speech and, however much I might try to call out, nobody should ever come to my aid…” (from The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat). This ability we have of establishing an ecstatic surreal space, is in itself constant rebellion against the constraints of the real world. And these constraints cease to become the dominating force, as new laws and new grounds for speculation are developed within the mind. Our imagination, being driven by the forces of impulse and desire, terrorises the structure of reason, creating a nomadic experience to be used as the foundation for understanding all other experiences.

Daylight could be covered by a twinkling night sky. And, the human that I seem to be, could also be a green-winged magpie.

By Faten Hakimi, Aug 10 2014 03:52PM


I walked into a memorial. A memorial of experiences. And all efforts were made to make me feel comfortable in that space. South London Gallery was transformed into a living room from a house in the suburbs of Baghdad. There were sofas covered in Iraqi rugs: Indian red and Prussian blue intertwining in order to create the traditional patterns; patterns that correlate with mortality. The post-war status quo in any nation is as violent as its time of war. More than ten years of post-war stagnation is a form of death, or even worse, pain. The selected artists showcasing their work in the Main Gallery represent this pain. And I could not sit and look at their work. How could I enjoy the comfort of seat when an artist is sharing with me the suffering of an entire nation?

I saw pieces from the embroidery of her torn dress, fragments of his legs stuck on the wall after the car bomb went off, and I saw the number 2011. Kadhim Nwir’s canvases carry the untold stories of the streets of Basra and Fallujah. Drips, layers, marks, scribbles, and stencils are all part of his abstract alphabet that create an aesthetically appealing chaotic experience. They are a collage of cut-outs of street walls, moments in time, and emotional explosions. His works are aggressive, yet mute. And all that colourful graffiti-like resemblance holds within it neutralised suffering.

“Sustaining some losses is necessary not only as part of the sacrifice and the struggle in the circumstances of the underground change…we should allow for some losses and accept a degree of sacrifice in order that the right and just course may be firmly established, because this is the way of real revolutionaries who believe in the justice of their cause and in their people.” (from a speech given by Saddam Hussein at the Council of Planning on July 10, 1977).

Sustaining losses continues to this day and since 2003 it has reached 188,000. One hundred and eighty eight thousand human lives. Stalin said that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. But the tragedy then becomes our indifference to that statistic. It resembles the numbness that follows intense pain. Is her name Leyla? That young girl dressed in a red night shirt, waiting by the side of her bed? She holds a picture of Saddam against her face. Is that her father standing by the shattered window? He too holds a picture of Saddam against his face. So do those teenage boys and the man from the butcher shop. So does every one in every portrait taken by Jamal Penjweny. Saddam Hussein is everywhere, in every wounded family and broken home. The aftermath of his regime and downfall still holds on to the country like a chronic illness. Penjweny’s photographic series not only portrays the sacrifice and loss of a nation, but also how justice becomes a luxury; a forever broken promise.

As I walked out of the gallery space I realised why the installation was set up to feel homely and intimate. It emphasises the blurred lines between domestic and violent; safety and tragedy; war and peace. I felt the endeavour to create a sense of security was nothing more than a prop; an intentional illusion. Whether through the time of Saddam’s leadership, his collapse, or the establishment of the current government, the attempts made to create safety and security for the Iraqi home have been staged. Just like the space in South London Gallery, they represent the crippled reality of political impotence.

“Everyday, Beirut kills one of us.

Everywhere, there is death,

In the cup of coffee,

In the door key,

In the terrace flowers,

In the papers,

In the alphabet.

Here we are, Balqis

Back again in Jahiliyyah

Back to savagery.

To backwardness, hideousness and meanness.

Back again to barbarism.

Where writing is a journey

Between fragments.

Where killing a butterfly in its field

Is the case.

Do you know my beloved Balqis?”

Do you know his beloved Balqis?

“The colour of violet in her eyes, twinkles all the time”.

Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, wrote this poem to lament the death of his wife Balqis and also marking the Palestinian defeat of 1967. Yet every phrase in that writing resonates in today’s Iraq, today’s Syria, today’s Egypt, today’s Palestine, and today’s Lebanon.

Welcome to Iraq, you are still alive.

By Faten Hakimi, Aug 10 2014 03:29PM

Beauty looks back at you in the mirror. It tells you it does not exist. It is not constrained within the edges of that mirror nor by the shape of your silhouette. Beauty smiles at you, grins, then looks away. And you are left with your reflection. Beauty kisses breath into your ribs as you awake every morning, it whispers in your ear and tells you it is not made by man, but by a God, the God of Light. It tells you you can never see it, shape it, nor define it. But you can feel it. It tells you its the potential within every passing moment; the potential of infinite possibilities. “Why?” I asked him. “Because you are beautiful, perfectly beautiful” he replied. I scanned the room we were sitting in and I looked for beauty. I looked for it in every face I saw. And there she was standing by the window. “Perfect beauty”, I thought to myself. The way her lips unfolded before every word she spoke. The curve that ran down her back as she walked past me. And the way that ray of light cut through her face like an open wound. Then I looked back at him. “Not if you were an ant. If you were an ant, I would have very large feet and a very small head. Would you still think I’m beautiful then?” I asked. I began undressing my mind from all conventional notions of beauty. And I realized it’s a feeling. Or an opiate. A tranquilizer, that contains the possibility for absoluteness.

Three days ago I met Hannah Höch’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery. She was one of the leading figures in the Dada movement in 1920’s Germany. She was able to contextualize and materialize the potential held within beauty with childlike innocence. “I want to show that small can be large, and large small, it is just the standpoint from which we judge that changes, and every concept loses its validity, and all our human gestures lose their validity” (Hannah Höch). She looked at things as if she was looking at them for the first time. And through her art, was able to transfer on to us the beauty that she experienced. The collages or photo-montages she created told the story of the society she was living in (and that we live in still). She dissected, fragmented, and distorted the orthodox perspective and every stereotype popular culture has built to constrain and limit our imagination and hence, our potential. Her somewhat arresting compositions sometimes explode with “uncanny suspense” and sometimes are spacial, sparse, and composed with surgical precision. Three of Höch’s collages, Kinder (1925), Klage (1930), and Aus der Sammlung: Aus einem ethnographischen Museum (1929), exhibit a sense of Pre-Baconian deformity and mutilation. They seem unconcerned with the facial features of the human figure and focus on preserving the emotionality of the human. In addition to that, is her use of the open mouth, that serves as a stage of interaction between the inside and the outside. Höch’s images, at once beautiful and violent, were able to challenge the totalitarian ideologies of National Socialism by challenging the uniform concepts of aesthetics. Through her rebellious journey of exploring unconventional beauty Hannah Höch served as a bridge between society and freedom of imagination. She was able to show us how beauty is in a constant state of metamorphosis.

I walked out of Whitechapel Gallery and I inhaled beauty in and I breathed it out, and like opium it rushed to my head.

“Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l’abîme,

O Beauté? ton regard, infernal et divin,

Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime,

Et l’on peut pour cela te comparer au vin.” from Hymne à la Beauté by Charles Baudelaire.

By Faten Hakimi, Aug 10 2014 03:16PM

Take a step outside your body. And look. Look inside rather than outside. Look at that infinite space within your mind. Do you remember? Every time you do, you are an outsider to your own self. You are remembering an event to a life that is no longer yours. Eventually you are a witness. A witness defined by a series of images. Some images make your heart beat with joy and other images might be of you counting each heart beat.

“I can’t remember the last time we had so much fun….we stayed for hours” said the man sitting by the window. Over and over again, as if on a glitch. Then came images of little ballerinas performing on a school stage, dressed in pink outfits and matching pink shoes, or were they black? Then you see images of young boys riding their bicycles. Then the ballerinas again. And now the man sitting by the window. These were scenes from Uri Aran’s video installation at the South London Gallery in Peckham. Somewhat underexposed, dreamy, and sentimental. Sometimes silent. Sometimes flickering. Sometimes one video is super-imposed on another, creating a patchwork of the past and the present. I looked around the gallery and on one side of the room where drawings, sketches and collages, framed and hanged one next to the other. I had to step very close to clearly see each one. As though Aran was intentionally asking us to develop an intimacy. There was no consistency within these pieces. They seemed displaced, formless, and full of contrast. The shapes and lines were in conversation, each trying to supersede the other. His works are like abstracted memories full of hope and still waiting to be full-filled; like undisclosed desires. They are that space in time before it all went wrong, before the tragedy. They resemble our struggle to hold on to the moments of joy that once made up our life. Aran was born and raised in Jerusalem, a city where death is closer than life; or at least more true. Perhaps he is trying to bring about our fearlessness; to help us let go of the cultural and social meaning we give life. Maybe he is telling us not to fear this sense of fragmentation and to use it to understand our selves better. To take a step outside our body.

On the other side of the room were large scale portraits; of a man, a boy, a woman, a horse, a dog and maybe another man. They stood there behind their glass frame and looked me straight in the eye. And for a second I knew them. That was the woman who told me it will all be ok. That was the little boy who tried to steal my shoes when we were hiding in the safe part of our house. They were white and I had drawn a blue fish on each side. I never took them off. If we ever had to run, I was ready. And standing there in the gallery space in Peckham, I heard the sound of bombs being dropped over Beirut. Then, she told me it will all be ok. “I was assailed by memories of a life which was no longer mine, but in which I’d found my simplest and most lasting pleasures: The smells of the summer, the part of town that I loved, the sky on certain evenings…”. (from The Outsider by Albert Camus)