Majd Abdel Hamid’s new exhibition tackles the themes of trauma through embroidery
Palestinian embroidery is full of tradition and nostalgia. But artist Majd Abdel Hamid uses this slow, meditative form to explore images of trauma, shock and atrocity.
Abdel Hamid, originally from Ramallah but living in Beirut, is known for his work combining traditional embroidery techniques with references to media images and art history to comment on politics and conflict. “The art world despises craftsmanship, but there is so much to do with embroidery as a medium,” he says. The National.
A few days after having set up his first European solo exhibition, A Stitch in Times, at La Verrière, the Brussels art space of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, he remembers the first embroideries on which he worked. many years. “I commissioned a seamstress from Ramallah to sew a white square on white fabric, in homage to the avant-garde artist [Kazimir] Malevich Black square, ”he said.“ But she refused and said it was a waste of time. I had to do it myself. “
Time is in the spotlight in this new exhibition curated by Guillaume Dessanges. It appears in the stitches that the artist has applied to everyday household items, such as kitchen towels, sheets, T-shirts and used tablecloths.
Among them is a tea strainer with the numbers 607 embroidered on the rusty steel mesh, a reference to the era of the Beirut port explosion. “It’s a reference to the clocks that stopped working after the port explosion. I feel like time has stood still in Beirut since, and we need to know what happened before it can resume, ”said Abdel Hamid, who was injured in the blast.
A new work by the artist, entitled Double bed sheet (2021), is dedicated to Riad Al Turk, the Syrian dissident who spent 18 years in solitary confinement in a Syrian prison. “I have long been obsessed with him and the way he drew patterns using lentil grains on his cell sheets to pass the time,” explains Abdel Hamid.
For the work, the artist filmed himself untangling the threads of a large bed sheet, with Al Turk’s voice in the background describing his time in prison. The same fabric appears alongside the video as an installation in the exhibition. The cotton threads hang down above, after being soaked in crystallized salt, so that they look like shards of frozen ice or stalactites. The artist had developed this technique using salt and cotton during a previous commission for the Spring Projects of the Sharjah Art Foundation in 2015.
The exhibition covers the artist’s work since he first moved to Beirut in 2014. “This is the first time I’ve seen my work together in one room,” he says. Among these, a series of embroideries based on media images of the conflict in Syria, the most documented conflict in the world to date. These colorful abstract pieces represent barrel bombings and civilians killed, using avant-garde and constructivist art motifs. The resulting works contrast with the hectic nature of news footage, freezing atrocities in time, rather than capturing them for transient media space.
He also explored maps of the Sykes-Picot Accord and satellite mapping of the Syrian conflict. For his series Tadmour (2019), Abdel Hamid embroidered satellite images of the infamous Tadmur prison, which held political dissidents in Syria, before and after it was bombed by ISIS.
The exhibition reveals the artist’s experiments with other mediums, such as video and literature, to comment on time and its passage. His video work Intathirha (Wait for her) (2019) is about a stateless person living in Beirut, who awaits the return of electricity to his apartment building. The narrator repeats lines from the love poem of the same name by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
Although Abdel Hamid’s work often mixes art with politics and conflict, he is uncomfortable with doing work that is explicitly political. The artist’s parents met as agents of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Syria, and he grew up under Israeli occupation in Ramallah. “But using images of the occupation in my work seems too intrusive to me,” he says.
This partly motivated his decision to move to Beirut. “In Ramallah, I felt like I was hitting a cement ceiling as an artist. You don’t talk to the Palestinians, only to them. I did not want to become a spokesperson for the oppressed.
Today he is faced with a new dilemma over Beirut, which is recovering from an economic crisis and recovering from the port explosion. Abdel Hamid was forced to produce part of the show from a city hotel room, due to prolonged power cuts in his residential building. “I can’t ignore what happened, and reminders of the port explosion are everywhere,” he said, “At the same time, if I produce a job on it, I don’t want it let a line be a position of anger.
Nevertheless, the city and its crises occupy an important place in the show, where the artist embroidered slogans derived from the Lebanese revolution of October 2019. Using white thread on a white pillow, he embroidered several times the words “Our misery must not be like that”.
“A protester painted these words on a wall in downtown Beirut. It kept haunting me, ”he says.
Another series is based on Burj El Murr in Beirut, which was known as a sniper point of view during the Lebanese Civil War. “It’s an incredible trauma site for the city. All those who occupied Beirut have moved into this building, ”he said. The works are a collage of embroidery and tailoring techniques, where Burj El Murr appears as an unidentified rectangle, floating in an abstract composition of colorful geometric shapes.
For the first time, Abdel Hamid plans to leave the city, like many artists and professionals of his generation. “I’m still not done with Beirut, but all the bubbles I made here are gone. “
A Stitch in Times is on display at La Verrière in Brussels until Saturday 4 December
Update: October 26, 2021, 6:37 a.m.