With the exhibition Hamra, Monia Ben Hamouda creates an intricate sculptural installation for ARIEL, where a series of laser-cut metal structures, coated with vibrantly red colored spices, appears as floating calligraphy. Through Arabic religious and cultural practices, Ben Hamouda’s works explore topics such as sociocultural identity, rituals, “fatigue”, trauma, anger and politics.
The sculptural work is a continuation of Ben Hamouda’s ongoing series Aniconism as Figurative Urgency.
As the title of the series suggests, the works explore aniconism, which in Islamic visual culture translates into the rejection of figurative representations of living beings or divine presence in favour of geometric shapes and calligraphy. The sculptures stand out in the air as calligraphic brushstrokes reminiscent of Islamic / Arabic characters, and yet they remain unreadable, while even assuming pseudo-animal-like touches.
The title Hamra, meaning red in Arabic, connects to an investigation of inflicted trauma and means of ushering in heeling and empathy. The surface of the four-part metal structure, the walls and floor are alternately coated with powdered spices; chilly pepper and paprika, and traces the imagery of the sculpture while also creating a strong sense of each layer being inextricably linked together with the next. All elements are part of the same piece, part of the same sculpture, they are interconnected and rely on one another. Through weaving the lexicon of family traumas – those that in a heterocolonial patriarchy are passed down unequally, and that have to do with geography,
geopolitics, language and vocabulary, misapprehensions and violence – Ben Hamouda is interested in how art holds and retains certain energy, how figuration and abstraction reverberate against one another to create emotional static.
In the most physical sense Ben Hamouda reconnects the piece with the color red. The medicinal, ceremonial, culinary and ritualistic properties of the applied spices have been used for protection for thousands of years. Above all the piece connects to the energy related to red; our roots, the material needs, our security, as with the place where you eat, work and live from. However, in Hamra it is also the colour of flags, cultures, wars, pride, power, anger and sudden strength. And curses.
Figuration is present yet absent in the installation. The sculptural form was made from a destroyed sketch of the drawing of a cow. All lines that once formed the body of an animal are now completely different, reaching abstraction. In the belief that humans are inextricably linked to their genetic family tree and the psycho-mental universe of their ancestors, Ben Hamouda reflects on her own roots. It is about the trauma of language, and the trauma of migration processes. Of leaving family behind, and forgetting mother tongues.
With Hamra, Ben Hamouda shows us how deeply we are all marked by and influenced by the heritage of our ancestors. In the encounter between contrasting elements, she reveals the peculiar persistence and complex symbolism of human emotions.