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 Susan Hefuna exhibition questions symbolism of space

Egyptian-German artist Susan Hefuna?s creative investigations into the relationship between public and private space are currently on display at the Pi Artworks gallery in the Mısır Apartment building on İstanbul?s İstiklal Street.

 

Hefuna, who uses a diverse array of mediums to explore the contours of space, as both a physical and social reality, is well known for her works inspired by the mashrabiya, the traditional, elegant wooden paneling used commonly in Egypt and throughout the Muslim world to allow women to view the world outside their homes without being seen. ?I have found inspiration in the beauty of the architectural structure and atmosphere of mashrabiyas, that which protects the inside world from the outside world, filtering the light and cooling the inside space, it allows one to observe without being seen,? the artist explains in an interview with Today?s Zaman. ?In my experience, most human beings are not able to see the world without a screen of social and cultural projections. The mashrabiya for me became a symbol that operates in two directions with the possibility for dialogue, rather than closure,? she adds.

 

Hefuna?s fascination with the mashrabiya is connected to a deeper appreciation of structure that she has had since childhood. ?I was always attracted to the abstract form of structures — that of molecules, DNA or modules — those details in science that illuminate us about the bigger structure of life. I discovered similarities between my drawings, which were inspired by the shape of the mashrabiya ? and the molecular structure, especially in the joints where the lines cross each other. All my work, my drawings, photographs, videos and sculptures are inspired by structures,? she notes.

 

While the artist takes much inspiration from the architecture she knew as a child in Cairo, her works also reflect a direct engagement with the locations in which they are produced. For her current exhibition she has created a number of drawings inspired by İstanbul. She says she was especially struck by the light in the city, adding that she has been using a Turkish blue ink for many of these pieces. ?I never did blue drawings before, never this size. These series of drawings are absolutely unique and for me contain my very personal feelings for İstanbul, which I cannot describe in words; that?s why I draw it,? she explains.

 

In addition to her drawings, the artist has also made mashrabiya panels for her İstanbul exhibition. Two of these constitute parallel works, as they both feature the text ?Egypt 2011,? though one is written in Arabic and another is written in English transliteration. ?The Arabic or English calligraphy is placed in-between the inside and outside. Depending on the cultural context where this work is exhibited, the viewer reads the work differently. In the West it is generally seen as an abstract image, a Mashrabiya pattern structure. In the Arab world, the viewer can read the word. The work has another meaning. This work plays with coding and de-coding, the different view in different cultural contexts. In İstanbul, of course, it is very interesting to show works in both Arabic and English writing,? Hefuna says.

 

Another panel piece in the exhibition takes a different approach to interactivity. The words ?forever silence? are written on the panel, but are hard to discern when seen from up close. They become clearer as the viewer moves away from this piece. Asked about this work, the artist says: ?This is part of my general concept. The viewer is part of the work. You need distance to observe. The viewer can enjoy the work as an abstract piece and at the same time reflect on the meaning of the words ?silence? and ?forever,? words which are not truly understandable for our human brain.?

 

The exhibition, titled İstanbul, will run through Oct. 30 at Pi Artworks. The artist will also be giving a lecture at SALT Beyoğlu?s Open Cinema on İstiklal Street on Oct. 25.

 

First published here: 

Rumeysa Kiger, İstanbul

Today’s Zaman

13/10/2011

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