Curvature of Time

Artist Shahla Hosseini’s Dubai exhibition 

For the artist, life has taken on a new meaning after the death of her mother, just as the knick-knacks in her quirky boxes
Hosseini’s boxes contain abstract photographs and objects such as strands of hair and medicine bottles. Courtesy Gulf News

by Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News

Iranian artist Shahla Hosseini’s latest exhibition, titled “Curvature of Time”, is a poignant tribute to her mother and an attempt to come to terms with a world without her. Through her mystical and meditative mixed-media collages in boxes, and paintings on fabric, the artist expresses her grief and feeling of vulnerability after the death of her mother earlier this year, and contemplates her changed perspective of the world and of life. The simple yet profound artworks invite viewers to reflect on the perennial flow of time and the delicate balance between life and death.

“Losing your parents makes you feel so extremely vulnerable. The meaning of life changes completely and it is a struggle to understand this changed world and regain your balance,” Hosseini says. She has tried to do this through her quirky boxes, filled with various knick-knacks. The artist is well known for such boxes. She began making them over three decades ago, as a way of dealing with the turmoil of the war between Iran and Iraq. Her latest boxes are an intriguing mix of abstract photographs, scientific graphs and drawings, medical paraphernalia such as bones, medicine bottles and respiratory charts, and a variety of found objects such as electrical switches, metal springs and wires, toy animals, pieces from the artist’s old sculptures, parts from broken-down machines and strands of hair.

Many of these objects are connected with the artist’s life and her childhood memories. Her sisters are doctors and her father was an engineer, so she grew up surrounded by skeletons, bones, engineering drawings and scientific instruments. These objects are remnants of the natural process of erosion, ageing and returning to dust. But through her collages she gives them new life, incorporating them into mysterious machines and charts that perhaps map and measure the intangible layers of our existence and help create equilibrium between them.

“I see all these seemingly useless objects as words that I can put together to make meaningful sentences. The relationship and the spaces between them are part of the syntax. Making these collages is a meditative process during which I let go and allow these objects to become something else. It is a journey into the unknown and leads to surprising dialogues between these disparate elements. It is about trying to create something that has a sense of poetry and mystery and an innate beauty and balance,” the artist says. 

The photographs in the boxes are a significant element of the collages. They are all images of circles. The artist has photographed various circular objects such as bowls, pots and even a hole in the ground to create these abstract, minimalist and textured images. “After my mother’s death, time and space have taken on a different meaning for me. I feel that a circle is the best way to express this because it is a complete shape and represents the flow and continuity of time and space. The beauty of a circle is that it is a geometric shape, with a specific volume and structure that is governed by absolute mathematical rules. Yet it can also be an abstract and infinite space with an inherent sense of movement that challenges the absoluteness of scientific laws, thus offering me the freedom to explore the abstract concepts that my mind is preoccupied with,” Hosseini says.

The artist is also showcasing a series of artworks on fabric that are steeped in nostalgia. The delicate, hand-woven fabric Hosseini has used means a lot to her because she found it in her mother’s clothes chest. And the barely visible words she has written in ink on the sepia-toned fabric make each piece even more meaningful. The words include scientific references to the X and Y chromosomes in our genes; words written on her mother’s shroud; and the mundane household accounts that she found in her father’s notebooks. In some pieces the artist has stained the fabric with soil in a reference to her mother’s grave. And faintly visible among the words in all the pieces is a helical structure, resembling a DNA molecule running along the entire length of the fabric.

“This fabric belonged to my mother and is a symbol of my heritage; and these artworks are about remembering her, connecting with her and celebrating the bond we shared and still do. The mundane things such as tea and sugar that my parents bought for their household tell me so much about their daily lives, and incorporating them in my work makes me feel connected with the subtle flow and rhythm of their lives. But there is so much more beneath the surface in these artworks that cannot be expressed in words,” the artist says. Another set of artworks features strips of gauze arranged in the form of respiratory charts, symbolising the ebb and flow of life, and the infinite continuum of time. 

 The images of circular objects allude to “continuity of time and space”. Courtesy Gulf News

“Curvature of Time” will run at Khak Gallery at the Courtyard until May 13.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.

Via Gulf News
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