Monira Al Qadiri-Future Past-Lampoon
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Monira Al Qadiri: the human being is a tragic subject both on a geospatial and spiritual scale

The installation Holy Quarter by Monira Al Qadiri shows how technology can transcend human perception through an almost religious evocation

Sculptural process, video production and robotics: Monira Al Qadiri

A comprehensive perspective, which spans and touches upon different disciplines, topics, sensibilities and discourses, shapes the practice of artist Monira Al Qadiri. She allows us to glance outside fixed temporalities through her works that hover between a remote past and an imaginary future with dystopian overtones. Within her creations, the chronological categories appear to be twisted, interconnected; their confines become labile, still existing but ephemeral and blurred. Coming from a pictorial and two-dimensional background, Al Qadiri has moved on to a more miscellaneous practice that is receptive to different media contamination. While nourishing her primary activity towards the sculptural process, she engages with video production and robotics, bestowing her works an all-encompassing nature. «I started as a painter, then making films and then the final frontier was sculpture, which formed the basis of most of my practice. I am a 2D artist. I do not know how to think in three dimensions. It is challenging for me. So sculpture appeared like an exotic process. I cannot do it, and so I use new technologies to reach what I need. I love sculpture because there is something extraordinary and mystifying about objects in space and how they occupy space. I love film as well and how it opens another kind of dimension, but objects can do that as well. I am always trying to combine tools to create an expanded atmosphere», narrates the artist while explaining her mixed approach.

The interest in and attraction to motion

The adoption of various media and their juxtaposition in the case of installations acts as a counterpart to stillness. The infusion of a fluid spirit and constant evolution within the artworks steers Al Qadiri’s creative process, which poses the transformative quality at the core of her practice. «My work is somehow never static. It is always about something that is shifting and changing. In a way, it is very animated. Even when I make a sculpture,  it is about animation because the paint on the pieces is iridescent, and the perception switches if you move around them». These peculiarities, which can be detected as technical, are also mirrored in her philosophical intentions and poetics. Multidisciplines holds a prominent role, and in the artist’s work, technology, ecology, history, religious practices, science and geographical references are brought into communication.

A consideration around bygone times apparently informs the artist’s activity, who resorts to the past as a source from which to draw and a frame of mind to enliven again. «I like the tradition of artists from medieval times: they used to be interested in everything. They would use philosophy and science and religion and mix them all together to create something interesting. It is a shame in our present era that we are so specialized. I am trying to bring that past vision back into my work. When I moved to Lebanon, I was immersed in this atmosphere. Everyone was doing and experimenting with a million things at the same time, and it was okay. While in Japan, where I lived for a long time, people were focused, and it felt quite segregated back then. I faced different environments, and currently, I am allowed to do everything. Getting back to such an embracing perspective is key because now we also have the tools to pursue everything we want».

Holy Quarter: a tangible example of the expressive bent

An installation from 2020 displayed in Haus for Kunst in Munich that combines film and sculpture for the first time  sees its genesis in the mingling and interpenetration of a plurality of elements and topics. Although somewhat unconventional, it begins with a plot: it is the story of the English explorer Harry St. John Philby, who in the 1930s crosses the area called Empty Quarter, the widest sand desert in the world situated in the southernmost part of the Arabian Peninsula. His dream was to rediscover the ‘Atlantis of the Sands’ but to his utter dismay, what he unveils are craters generated by the impact of meteorites and not remains of a volcano as first presumed. His findings did not consist of pearls, despite the explorer’s expectations and the misleading appearance of these leftovers, but instead of space fossils – fragments of meteorites with an almost alien allure, doubtless fascinating for the brilliance typifying their uncanny traits. These particular concretions are rendered in Holy Quarter with translucent and reflective black sculptures with a smooth, luscious, rounded shape. Curved figures with slight protuberances that enhance their liquid impression through a glossy yet arcane touch. They are placed in front of the large screen glowing the venue, leading the viewer into rocky and desert-like landscapes. The feeling arising from the footage is that of floating mystically on another, unknown planet – led by a mechanized voice, sinister, mysterious but at once hypnotic and hardly decipherable during the initial phase. Talking are the so-called ‘Wabar Pearls’, which as it turns out, are the personification of the sculptures in the hall; they recount their ancestral and mythical origins, illustrating their meaning without betraying a certain degree of an enigma. The artist injects into this religious ambience a link with the political, economic and social dynamics through the issue of oil. The bond and the shift is achieved by the actualization that the gloomy glass sculptures can also be regarded as drops of oil, a crucial and controversial resource, both gift and curse, in the unfolding of human development and history.  

Monira Al Qadiri-Chimera-Lampoon
Monira Al Qadiri, Chimera, 2021. Aluminum sculpture, automotive paint, 450 x 470 x 490 cm. Photo Dubai Expo 2020. Courtesy the artist; Dubai Expo 2020. © Monira Al Qadiri

An insight into where Monira Al Qadiri’s work stems from

«I have been working on the aesthetics of pearls and oil for a long time, and I am trying to relate the historic moments pre- and post-oil in the Gulf Region. Especially because before oil, the main industry was that of pearl diving. These sculptures blend the past into the present and the future; they speak of oil and extraction and economies and how they develop. Oil changed the historical narrative in the region abruptly and dramatically. I wanted to learn about this topic, and came across a story about pearls, around these black pearls found in the desert. They were not actually pearls: I discovered the locals called them pearls because back then, they could not give them another name – they felt that these were the ruins of an ancient city. And according to the belief, God punished the people from there because they were too decadent, and the pearl necklaces of the ladies of that town fell all over the ground. This is how people mythologized the remnants of the meteorites that landed there», explains Al Qadiri by offering an insight into where her work stems from. Holy Quarter is presented as an experiential encounter for the viewer who, in participating in this event, is faced with a mystical sentiment, with an idea of estrangement, with the aura of the divine. In this turmoil of viewpoints, which, although perturbing is not necessarily received as a harsh one, resides a high degree of emotional delicacy which entails a gentle reflection on existential values and present issues simultaneously. Monira Al Qadiri, in her practice and with this work, seeks to transcend an overly worldly conception of art without falling into a state of abstraction. The aim is to evoke an experience of profound and conscious recollection, similar to what occurs in those places designed for religious gatherings.

The stranger as an inward entity – Alienation

In this regard, it appears to follow the paradox that the more one moves into a deep exploration within oneself, the more a sense of alienation is detected, showing that the stranger is an inward entity. The impression of otherworldly provenance fostered by the aesthetic output of the artist’s pieces seems to be a tangible highlighting of such dynamic that might otherwise go unheard. «An alien is not just a physical being, but it’s also a psychological being: even religious experiences are sort of alien experiences because you are suddenly connected to another world, another dimension. I think of myself as an alien too. Culturally speaking, I am an alien because I feel I do not belong anywhere anymore. In the past, this realization made me somehow sad. Still, now it is liberating to be aware that I am always a sort of outsider: it helps my practice because any cultural context or place or history never limits me. And so, I also think of my sculptures in general as a representation of myself since they are portraits of aliens just like me». Al Qadiri brings together many threads to weave a unitary discourse, fluid but accurate in its focal elements. The assumption that contemporary life has become excessively logical and rationalized leads her to cross the border between mystery and knowledge without arousing brutal disorientation but rather to reveal alternative horizons of discovery. Such a recognition carries a haze of sadness that, however, is not meant as unrewarding or detrimental. Instead, it is to be thought of as a noble and proactive breakthrough towards oneself and the surrounding universe. The disclosure of a multifaceted reality that disavows the ideology of a positivity always to be achieved is a humanizing process that both the collectivity and the single individual cannot preclude or hold away from. Hence, the artistic purpose tempts to make shadow worthier than mere light precisely because of its abundant nuances.  To some extent, the iridescent work of Al Qadiri addresses this aspiration and longing through a sense of tragedy that by nature belongs to humankind.

Monira Al Qadiri (b. 1983) 

An internationally recognized Kuwaiti visual artist with a multidisciplinary approach. She shaped her personality and career through a nomadic path: born in Senegal, she lived for many years in Japan, then moved to Beirut and Amsterdam. She is currently based in Berlin. In Japan, she pursued most of her artistic education, and in 2010 she received a PhD in inter-media art from Tokyo University of the Arts. Her research revolved around the aesthetics of sadness in the Middle-East by revealing a cultural hybrid perspective that brings together poetry, music, art and religious practices. She has exhibited her works all over the world, confronting different audiences. Currently, her focus and aspiration are to delve into public art: on the occasion of Expo 2020 in Dubai, her first permanent public sculpture titled Chimera was unveiled.

Giulia Ottavia Frattini

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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