In the physical sense, traces can be visible marks left on a surface. There is also an historical and cultural sense. Our forthcoming exhibitionTraces brings together the works of four artists, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Marwan Sahmarani, Selma Gürbüz and Shahpour Pouyan, highlighting their work on paper and explores how the intrinsic and associative qualities of the medium affects their work.
In today’s world when writing can be done on a keyboard and sketches made onscreen, paper can seem like an odd survival from an earlier age. The permanence of a mark of ink on paper sheet, which can only be written on once, seems to contradict the perceived fragility of the medium. Yet the very traits that make paper seem an anachronism in comparison to other media are also its strengths: they bequeath it a timeless and evocative quality. Once a trace is laid on to the paper, it can hardly be erased. Paper works cannot be over-worked or worked over. They tread a careful line between forward planning and spontaneous execution.
Paper is indelibly associated with books and the dissemination of knowledge. From its origins in China more than 2000 years ago, to its westward progression through Middle East and on to medieval Europe, through industrialization, up until the internet revolution of recent decades, paper was the primary medium of record.
In the Middle East until modern times paper was also a main medium for representation, with miniatures and diagrams, their strong graphic quality quite unlike easel painting on canvas. This abstract quality lends itself well to a contemporary context, as Marwan Sahramani’s paintings of comical militaristic figures on an almost translucent paper and Selma Gürbüz’s whimsical paintings on a coarser surface attest. Both recall miniatures but in quite different ways- Sahmarani with his finely wrought details embellishing gestural washes of colour, while Gürbüz works appear almost as illustrations emancipated from some giant apocryphal manuscript.
Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Baruther Strasse, an imprint on paper taken from the surface of a wall, is from her ongoing project that highlights historically or symbolically significant walls in Berlin and Tunis. Linking recent history to a more distant past, the wall in question is from a 19th century unplanned graveyard in Berlin which gradually developed into fully fledged cemetery when wealthier families began to build tombs and crypts, which eventually formed an imposing wall around the compound, which reminds Kaabi-Linke of how empty spaces around Berlin were occupied by squatters during the 1980s and 1990s.
Recent works by Shahpour Pouyan extend his commentary on power and domination. As an artist well-versed in the conventions of the Persian miniature, paradoxically his move to paper as a medium sees him downplay overt references to the genre, instead exploring the graphic qualities of the medium. His recent series of drawings on paper are on a grand scale, singling out particular objects whose images captivate him, treating them like devotional images or oversized illustrations from an architectural treatise or scientific manual. Post Hot Point is an amalgam of golden mosque-like dome and Capitol-like white rotunda, while his new series depicts the engine of a V2 rocket, an early ballistic missile produced by Germany at the latter part of the Second World War using forced concentration camp labour. Werner Von Braun, the designer of this rocket, was later captured by American soldiers and brought to the US to work on its space programme. In the process he became an American hero with his successful Apollo moon landings. Pouyan dwells on the unfamiliar shape of the engine rather than the rocket itself, superimposing it on architectural floorplans.