From Steve McQueen’s compelling note on social injustice, Carrie Mae Weems and Isaac Julien’s unpacking of race, color and gender, Shirin Neshat’s politically charged film and stills, and Tomás Saraceno’s note to a planet in deep crisis, there was no shortage of hard-hitting art in 2023. And there was so much beauty too, namely Mark Rothko’s utterly gorgeous, unmissable show in Paris.
I came across Ghada Amer’s powerful work a while ago and was honoured to meet her in person a few weeks ago at Goodman Gallery in London where her solo ‘QR Code Revisited’ is on show until 22 December, 2023.
In her very unique way Amer abstracts language and unpacks definitions. She lingers on words, translations and mistranslations and their wider impact on how we view others. The maze-like quality of ‘QR Code Revisited’ invites us to adventure into places unseen, explore other narratives. Ultimately the artist finds in words the force to capture shared identities, commonalities across cultures, humanity without borders.
Occasionally you meet an artist who surprises you. Marseille based Sara Sadik is one. Informed by video games, anime, science fiction and French rap, her artwork and visual storytelling examines loneliness and anxiety among young men, specifically marginalised French youth.
Upstairs at the Goodman Gallery in London hang large-scale black-and-white photographs of women. Look closer at their naked bodies, parts of which are symbolically covered, and these women of various ages and ethnicities bear signs of abuse and mutilation. Meanwhile, downstairs in the gallery, the video installation tells the stylised, fictional story of a woman struggling with her memories of imprisonment and rape.
‘The Fury’ is the latest body of work by the New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat, who, since the 1990s, has captivated viewers — and in some instances caused controversy — through an art that investigates gender and society, time and memory, the individual and the collective, and the complexities and contradictions of Islam, told through a personal and diasporic lens.
Neshat’s mesmerising, cinematic, large-scale black-and-white photography is overlaid with handwritten Farsi calligraphy — poetry, prose — inviting the viewer to read more than the surface image. Likewise, with her feature films and film installations, she has created her own unique moving image language.
‘The Fury’ was shot in June 2022 near Neshat’s Brooklyn studio. In the film, the female protagonist is played by Iranian-American actor Sheila Vand, while the remaining cast are Neshat’s co-students from her African dance class. In the film, dance expresses liberation — it is fundamental to the storytelling. Choreographed by Neshat’s teacher, the climax scene is a stirring ritual of movement expressing protest and rage, performed to the haunting vocals of Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, singing “Soltane Ghalbha” (meaning king of hearts, a heartfelt Iranian love song from 1968), the melody slowed down, and the lyrics retold in Arabic.
I spoke with Shirin Neshat to see what she hopes the viewer will take from this body of work.
Ten wooden sculptures by the German artist Georg Baselitz, each shaped from an individual tree trunk, stand and recline and hover over the daylight-lit rooms of the Serpentine South gallery. Some are enormous, carved with twisting and turning shapes and crude, rough edges. They are at once overpowering yet soft and gentle. And there is humor and humanity in their interactions.
“Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015” is the first public showing of this body of work, created between the dates on the title and modelled on himself and his wife Elke, a life-long inspiration and artistic partner, with subjects that reflect on history, personal life, childhood memories. “What is essentially being exhibited is like a cabinet of wonders: a sphere within a sphere within a sphere from a tree trunk with a chainsaw,” says Baselitz of the exhibition.