Amal Kenawy

23 January – 3 May 2007

“I might have a heart that beats and functions regularly, but I cannot confirm that I am alive.”

When I search within myself, I perceive a self that has an independent existence and that contains a set of laws which rule and govern the body as a physical entity. However, the existence of the self does not correspond to that of an individuality, hence my continuous search to define my relationship to being and to nothingness.

I don’t think of my work as feminist in the traditional sense of the word. In a way, I am concerned with pain and isolation, among other sentiments. On a technical level, I try to create a visual language accessible to different audiences, a language that transcends the specificities of culture, be it Eastern or Western. I think of my art as artwork made by a female artist. I see my creative process as a tool for expression rather than crave to produce a final artwork.

I may have a heart the beats and functions regularly, but I cannot confirm that I am alive. Emotions inhabit this human frame and make a vessel of it. Therefore, I attempt to adjust my understanding so as to perceive the self in a wider context, a context in which these abstracted/removed emotions fluctuate between being memories and dreams. Within such a framework, these abstract emotions appear to me as constituting my true self, the self that I can see clearly, beyond the narrow confines of my body.

A few years ago, a certain personal experience had a significant effect on my life. At that point in time, I had not been working for more than two years. During the period of retreat that I took, I kept a kind of diary. With the passage of time, it became a private space, a sort of secret garden where I was able to negotiate the elusive boundaries between reality and memories. I later used it as a point of departure for creating a visual narrative that allowed me to communicate all sorts of emotions and sentiments, emotions that were sometimes loaded with ambivalence and contradictions.

My work is not specifically about women in Muslim society, although it deals with the way humans reflect the societies they inhabit or originate from. Humans, men and women alike, including artists of both genders, experience the issues and problems that afflict their societies. In my art, I focus on understanding and consequently responding to these issues.

For The Room (2003), I tried to map out the connection between the physical-clinical existence of humans and the private world they simultaneously occupy by exploring a universe in which reality blends with dreams and the imaginative with intimate nostalgia. I try, always try, to create a space where I can probe my identities vis-a-vis the world around me. Using a wide range of media, I often attempt to explore the world of illusion against a backdrop of memory, a memory that is nearly always based on reality.

By sensing and exploring the metaphysical world that lies hidden beneath the physical, I attempt to bring the unseen into visual space. In this way, I came to perceive the existence of a metaphorical room that lies within the physical body, a room that reflects a much bigger one that lies outside of the body, one that represents society, with all the customs, traditions, conventions and factors that condition it.

When I think of displacement as a state, what comes to my mind is not the physical displacement caused by the boundaries that separate societies, but rather the schisms endured by the human entity that moves about with all its contradictions, dreams, emotions and sentiments, a representation of society and all of its variables.

Displacement for me is the transformation of man from his own self to another state, a state in which his body is reduced to a mere shell; inside the shell, a metamorphosis takes place, during which a total separation of elements happens: the external physical shape is detached from its content, long-lived dreams from reality. Man becomes a stranger not only to the outer world but to his dismantled self as well.

This obsession with displacement led me to create, two years later, The Purple Artificial Forest (Video-animation 2005). Based on a dream in which the phrase “purple artificial forest” was repeated several times, I dismantled objects, organs, and body parts, whose pieces served as the principal elements of my work. Each component represents the protagonist (possibly myself) and is related to a mirror. In this mirror, an ethereal entity devours them. Throughout the animation, the ethereal entity establishes a relationship with the protagonist, as whole or as “individual parts,” always and endlessly feeding on her, her image, her property, her thoughts and even her dreams. In the final climax scene, both the protagonist and the entity devour each other in a reciprocal apocalypse.

Booby-Trapped Heaven (video installation- limited edition photographs, 2006) is a double journey, a journey to the inside of the self and a journey through the real, physical world. The protagonist is in a mobile vehicle, looking out onto a citysscape. As the city’s lights fade away, only the reflection of a human face can be faintly seen in a glass window. A suggestion of the vehicle being an airplane is made. Once the city is out of sight, a screen in the plane becomes the protagonist’s only link to the world. She watches the image of a little plane as it crawls around the screen, forming lines of dots as it moves from one city to another, all of which have no name.

As the plane begins its descent, she looks around in all directions. What she sees is a shapeless space, stretching out forever. There is neither a defined landscape nor a skyline in sight. The protagonist is trapped in a standing position for minutes, hours, days… an eternity.

In my collaborations with Abdel Ghani Kenawy, which lasted for over a decade, we developed material/concrete aspects in our work that complemented my very individual/personal world of dreams and spirituality. The process of our physical and intellectual explorations was very much reminiscent of that of science. Science, in its investigation of characteristics, structures, and relationships, searches for the core of things. Science is not just about minute parts and particulars; it aspires to understand totalities as well. To tackle art using a scientific approach is to look into its functions, physiologies and molecular dynamics, to explore its organics as much as its mechanics. In our projects that involved sculpture, installation, or video performances, we attempted to understand the laws governing natural forms and their interactions with one another. Our main common assumption was that “function determines form.” Function, after all, links all the components of nature, the animate and inanimate, turning them into one global matrix that encompasses the essence of existence.