Recently I had the honour of being asked by Hamra Abbas to write a little essay for her exhibition, Kaaba Picture as a Misprint, at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai. I first came across Abbas's work in 2008 while researching my exhibition Realms of Intimacy: Miniaturist Practice from Pakistan at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati Ohio. I love her vision and it has been a pleasure watching how it has developed over the past few years.
The publication in its entirety can be found here.
Hamra Abbas' artistic practice draws from a myriad of sources and takes a diversity of forms. Her works originate from encounters and experiences - an image, icon or gesture - that are manipulated by the artist transforming its scale, function or medium. Her intention is to deconstruct the act of seeing by recreating images that form part of a collective memory. Unrestrained by subject matter or media, she takes an investigative approach to produce a diverse and holistic body of work addressing notions of cultural history, sexuality, violence, ornamentation, devotion and faith.
In her new body of works Abbas continues to explore the alternation of scale and medium but within the context of the visual language of devotion, using the Kaaba as the starting point of her enquiry. In Kaaba Pictures (a series commissioned for and first exhibited at the DeCordova Biennale, 2013), Abbas takes her cues from souvenirs that are bought by pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage. Often found within the private homes of her native Pakistan, these objects serve as a portable memory to the sacred ritual. Appropriated by the artist and transformed - from object to painting to large-scale photograph - the works begin to follow the format of the mass-produced images of their origin and are returned to the public for consumption.
In Kaaba Picture as a Misprint, a series of six photographs and the title of the exhibition, Abbas takes the cubic form of the Kaaba to its most simple geometric representation: two black rectangles. Through experimentation, the black form is broken down into cyan, magenta, and yellow versions of the shape, which are then printed off-centre. Through this technique, only when the three colours are layered upon each other is the image black. By deeming her method a "misprint", the artist links the quest for truth through religious devotion to the plethora of ways in which that truth can be understood.
Abbas employs a humorous approach in her practice often using materials that hint at playfulness. In Artists for instance she uses plasticine to make miniature portraits of great-canonized artists of contemporary art. These have been photographed and hugely distorted in scale in order to emphasize the quasi-religious significance that has often been attached to the great artists in history. Through this approach, Abbas is able to convey the way in which, throughout history, artists have been mythologized and in doing so taken on an identity far greater than that of mere mortals.
In Kaaba Picture as a Misprint Abbas employs the visual language of religion and contemporary acts of devotion to address transformation and individual experience. It is an investigation about the ideas and ideals that are beyond medium and homogenized understanding; an invitation to a personal assignation of value and evocation of memory.