Double Truth: Zoulikha Bouabdellah

25 May - 17 July 2015

 

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde is pleased to welcome back Zoulikha Bouabdellah for Double Truth, her third solo exhibition in Dubai, in which the Casablanca-based artist invades the gallery with a wall- to-wall onslaught of ornamentation, encompassing works on paper, installation, embroidery and video.

 

Bouabdellah pastes up her own stamped wallpaper, drapes black fabric stitched with gold threads from the gallery walls, and even lays a small path of tassled carpets to welcome the viewer into the space. Such ornamentations are of the sort that scandalised Austrian theorist Adolf Loos in 1908 and incensed him enough to write his infamous call-to-arms Ornament and Crime, which equated superfluous decora- tion with degenerate nostalgia and a deviant urge to scrawl human dithering on the walls. Bouabdellah, however, embraces Loos's 'orna- ment disease'; she utilises the near-mechanical processes of repetition and slight alteration to hand an entirely ornamented environment to the viewer.

 

Yet these apparently benign elaborations belie their sharp teeth: Bouabdellah buries subversions in her acts of over-ornamentation - stare long enough at the golden stitchings in her drapery, for instance, and the outline of a fighter jet emerges like a mirage. There are mortar shells in the wallpaper. The arms of a mobile quietly turning in the gallery bear an eerie resemblance to razor blades.

 

Behind Bouabdellah's seemingly-decorous world of gold leaf and garish high-heeled shoes are disturbing details that intimate state violence, commercial objectification of the female body and fet-ishised forms. In each of the works here, ornamentation becomes a tactic to bury or make esoteric a disturbing or uncomfortable image or reality, whether it is the luxurious contour of an Ingres odalisque, which forms a decorous window to a collage of sexualised bodies, or an entire wall stamped with decorative patterns - akin to architectural flourishes - that have deviance written into their very shape.

 

The artist encapsulates apparently contradictory images, attitudes or notions within a single form and, by doing so, actively questions how such binary oppositions are concocted - "Why did man feel the need to define what is profane and what is sacred?" asks Bouabdellah. Double Truth brings together several seminal works from the last few years of Bouabdellah's practice that directly follow this question - Silence (2008), for instance, is an installation of small rugs, reminiscent of those used for prayer, that have a pair of women's high-heeled shoes placed in a hole in their centre. The work questions the process whereby such inanimate objects, each essentially orna- mentations in their own right, are designated as sacred or profane.

 

The show takes its name from the 'Double Truth Theory' of the Arab polymath Ibn Rushd; his suggestion that truth could be reached at by both religion and philosophy was deemed a heresy in 13th Century Europe. Here, Bouabdellah explores a sequence of double truths in which objects deemed sacred and profane, redolent of hi-tech and simplistic craft, or of violence and sanctity, are intertwined and made reliant on their inverse to exist. Though seemingly-simple artistic ges- tures, Bouabdellah offers a forthright critique of the manner in which symbolic or fetishised meaning is inscribed on our understanding and the binary constructs that result. 

 

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