Indelible Marks: Hasan and Husain Essop

20 September - 20 October 2011

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde proudly presents the first exhibition of works by South African artists and twin brothers Hasan and Husain Essop. Indelible Marks presented in the Dubai gallery opens on 19th September 2011 and runs through to 20 October 2011. Indelible marks cannot be forgotten; they are memorable and cannot be easily erased or washed away. This selection of twenty key photographic works by the Essop brothers brings together an extensive survey of their ongoing concerns with art's relationship with religion, often based on memories, rituals and stereotypes.


The series of photographs also deals with religion's place in today's secular society. 


It tells a story of alienation and ongoing concerns of 'the other/otherness'. The discourse on otherness has been brought to the forefront by Edward Said, who described this extensively in his seminal 1978 text, Orientalism: 


Akin to Said's doctrine, The Essop brothers present a view of the East that is centered around preconceived archetypes or stereotypes, which envision Eastern cultures as similar to each other, but fundamentally different to Western culture.


The Essop brothers create a montage of imagery by respectively placing themselves in digitally enhanced photographic mise en scenes, exploring life-issues in Cape Town, with an emphasis on their experiences as Muslims. Their works are autobiographical but continually raises important questions about, identity, religion, mortality and immortality in a South African context. The twins Hasan and Husain Essop live in the working class suburb of Rylands Estate, Cape Town, in the dusty area known as the Cape Flats. During the apartheid years, Rylands was the scene of numerous clashes between activists and police. On initial examination of this body of work, the predominant characteristic is one of rebellion. The scenes play up to stereotypes of young men who are jobless and irresponsible, with a not very 'promising future' ahead of them.


Some present humour in quite serious situations, whilst others are political charged as exemplified in Weapons of El Puyo (Chicken), 2009 and Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2009, respectively. The brothers see their series of work as a means of highlighting a multi-cultural clash between religion and popular culture. They explore the influence of Western cinema and the ways these narratives are constructed to depict a certain reality. Inspired by the visual language of Hollywood, the artists create new narratives. Each photograph reflecting a continual battle of moral, religious and cultural conflicts.


The Essop brother’s photographs are printed on cotton, which they describe as cotton rag. This choice of material gives a smooth, warm and velvety matt effect. The use of pigment-based ink renders the colours organic or natural looking. It gives a certain textural element to often flat two dimensional photographic works. In contrast, the colours seem to soften the subjects, everything looks quiet picturesque. The cotton rag gives a depth of field which creates a natural perspective, material presence in parts of scenes.


Locations of photographs are often anonymous, but the offer a stage to perform and define the artists' behaviour. Daily uniforms and brands reflecting class distinctions become tools and opportunities for acting out multiple personae, as well as adapting to specific surroundings. Characters are often repeated, for example, figures in Islamic wear that at first glance may look aggressive, but their plight humble. El Cordero (Lamb), 2009, shows this humble plight as it is part of a body of work focused around the aspect of Qurbani, which is the proper manner in which an animal must be slaughtered in order to be consumed. The brothers restaged this as part of a climax to their trip to Cuba in 2009. Having experienced the culture, religion and history of Havana, they decided preparing a feast as ‘a last supper’ would be the climax of our journey. This was done in Halaal manner but set in a dining room that echoed the belief system of the people with whom they shared the meal. This feast becomes symbolic for showing gratitude as well as parting with the gift of food.


As twin brothers, similarities become interesting and differences conflicting but exciting. The Essop brothers try to create something new each time, a story unfolds that never ends.


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