Text by Natasha Gasparian
Mona Saudi has had a steady affaire de coeur with stone. The story which has been retold is that, as a child growing up in Amman, she was enthralled by the city and its nearby archeological sites. Far from trivial, her love for the city’s stonework came to influence her near-absolute fidelity to the multifarious material. It also manifested in atavistic tendencies toward her practice. Even in other media, like poetry, painting and drawing, her stone sculptures remain central to the work. Her lavish materials – pink limestone, jade, marble – are (not coincidentally) sourced from places across the Middle East, and sometimes beyond, to where she journeyed.
On display is a selection of artwork from just over the last two decades of Saudi’s oeuvre (1995-2017). It is a fairly recent array of a lifelong practice, but one that is unwavering in its consistency across the past half century. Since 1965, each discrete object Saudi has produced is a meditation on a universal condition – love, fertility, maternity, growth – which is treated as transhistorical. Eschewing temporal categorization, her material of choice subtly grounds the work in geographical referents (suggestive, in turn, of a political
While Saudi’s work tends toward an abstraction of pure form, it does not overthrow the figure. Rather, the figure is generalized through abstraction, and comes to stand in for a universal human condition. In line with the (Constructivist) principle of “truth to materials” – where materials are used aptly in accordance with their specific qualities, thus rendering the process of construction transparent – her constancy in stone humanizes abstraction, and keeps it within the realm of art. Sculpture is universalized, art rehumanized.
Mona Saudi was born in Amman in 1945, and grew up in a traditional Jordanian family. At the age of seventeen, she fled to pursue an art education in Paris via Beirut. In Beirut, she started frequenting the artistic and intellectual circles and met her lifelong friends Adonis, Onsi El-Hajj, and Paul Guiragossian. In 1964, she joined l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where she received a degree in Sculpture. She has been living in Beirut since 1969, and has exhibited widely in both local and
Sculptures & works on paper 1995-2017
15 September - 28 October, 2017
Face to Face
3-29 October, 2017
Cheminer, fouiller, détourner, reculer, avancer, continuer,
Baisser la tête dans la figure.
Trouver l'intuition pure.
– Fadia Haddad
Fadia Haddad works compulsively in her studio. She begins by placing a canvas cloth, or a sheet of aged paper, on the floor and circles around it with her blocky brush. Her brushstroke is thick, and she uses it minimally. With acrylic pigments in black, grey, red, green, pink and blue, she paints in single layers from above. This takes her long hours: she walks heavily, ferrets about, ponders, retreats, advances, and gets lost in the work.
Since the late 80s, Haddad has followed a process-based – you can even call it processional – practice of painting, which the art critic Harold Rosenberg first called “action painting” in reference to the gestural strand of abstract expressionism. Action painting was associated almost exclusively with the cult of the masculinist hero-artist Jackson Pollock. His was a consecrated artistic ritual, then profaned by feminist
Her vast corpus of paintings has revolved around the enigmatic motif of the mask. In the earlier years of her practice, the mask occupied a prominent position in her painting, but has gradually receded into a nearly inconspicuous pencil drawing. Even when it was the central figure of the work, the mask did not hold a representational status. It was, and continues to be treated as a fetish object which now bears little relation to its primitivist progenitors. Haddad does not take a particular place to be the quintessence of semblances. She locates the universal in the mask. The mask summons the contradictory forces of denial and avowal: it is an empty object whose presence is denied by its beholder, but it also carries the material trace of Haddad’s bodily movements, registered in brushstrokes. It at once disappears and returns. The viewer is lured by its double nature, expects to be deceived, and yet engages in its ritual enjoyment.