There is no such thing as passive spectatorship in the work of Palestinian artist Izdihar Afyouni. She explores dualities such as subjugation and agency, violence and eroticism, abjection and subjectivity. Complex narratives emerge. They present disenfranchised subjects; women, prisoners, migrants and refugees. But her viewers are not any more confronted with these narratives as they subjected to them. At times, she will employ processes of unconscious identification in order to provoke a psychological response. Others, she will creative immersive participatory performances which facilitate feelings of (consensual) discomfort. Through these means, alienation and biologically sanctioned injustice is literally enacted upon the bodies of the viewers themselves.
Izdihar was classically trained in academic figural drawing and recently completed her MA in Art and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. Although primarily working on large-scale paintings, she operates as a multi-disciplinary artist and independent curator. Both politically and psychologically engaged with understanding the body, Izehar is specifically interested in individuals who have been subjugated and experienced abjection.
Abjection was popularised by Julia Kristeva in her work Powers of Horror. Building upon the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Jaques Lacan, the term refers to the separation between the self and ‘other’. This is derived from cultural narratives of horror or discrimination, it is the state of being ‘cast off’. Izdihar is fascinated in intense forms of abjection, manifested in decades of trauma. She says that this occurs when horror becomes the only language you know how to speak, when war becomes your ‘psychological currency’.
Describing her practice as research-led, she will begin with a concept and develop it theoretically. However, at times the concept will develop with the work itself. This is especially true for her paintings. For they speak a pictorial language which transcends what the written word can express alone.
Stylistically, she considers herself a figeral painter, an abstract expressionist and a contemporary Surrealist. But we’re not talking about the dream imagery of Salvador Dali. It’s a Surrealism for a more contemporary age; one which is imbued with a so called ‘horror aesthetic’. Much of her paintings induce nightmarish qualities, only amplified by the grandiose scale which is intended to dwarf the spectator. Izehar will at times use her own blood, ground into the paint.
Blood has particular symbolic pertinence to her practice, not only for it’s festishistic properties, but in its connection to real people. In her on-going series and curatorial project Thicker Than Blood,Izdihar looks at the impact of state policies and bio-surveillance measures which regulate free movement, bodies and individual agency. In the initial instalment, which took place in a London Dungeon, viewers gained entry into the space upon providing a small sample of their blood. Their experience of the piece was then contingent on the amount of white blood cells shown in their results. While some viewers were treated to a performance, others were subjected to an interrogation. But there was a method to the cruelty. The oeuvre is intended to draw attention to the ethical and psychological ramifications of racial and genetic profiling.
During her time at PILOTENKUECHE residency, Izdihar has returned to painting. For the group’s first show at Kunstkraftwerk, she created a triptych entitled ‘She’s A Cult’. The piece is inspired by the early Italian Baroque painter Artemisia and art-historical interpretations of female violence. Artemesia is today considered one of the foremost progressive painters of her generation. In an era when women were largely excluded from the male-dominated community of artists and patrons, she has been hailed by art critics as representing the rhetoric of the ‘power of women’. Through a direct re-imagining of Artemisia’s ‘Judith slaying Holofernes’, Izdihar sought to highlight similar contemporary paradigms of displacement with regard to the continued exclusion of women from artistic discourse.
For the group’s final exhibition ‘Wrestling with Impermanence’, She completed another large scale painting exploring a sustained pre-occupation with the figure of the abject.
Written by: Ellisha Walkden
Open: Sun 19 – Sun 2 June 2019, 10AM – 6PM (closed Mondays)
Location: Kunstkraftwerk, Saalfelder Str. 8, 04179 Leipzig
Vernissage: Fri 21 June 2019, 7PM
Open: Sat 22 – Wed 26 June 2019 1PM-5PM
Location: PILOTENKUECHE, 2nd Floor, Franz-Flemming-Str. 9, 04179 Leipzig, Germany