Camden Artwork Centre, London
27 January – 28 Might 2023
Mohammed Sami was born in Baghdad in 1984 underneath Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. His prodigious expertise as a painter was recognised when he was nonetheless a baby and he spent years engaged on large-scale propaganda work for the regime. He gained asylum in Sweden in 2007 and subsequently has come to make his residence in London. That is his first institutional solo present within the UK, following contributions to the Hayward’s Mixing it Up final yr and to the Whitechapel Open.
We’re a bit of greater than every week away from the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the allied forces. Anybody with a visible reminiscence constructed up from information protection of the invasion will come to Sami’s present with an unavoidable set of expectations. “Artwork offers you the chance to not paint the whole lot”, says the artist, nonetheless. For whereas his work are undoubtedly a negotiation together with his reminiscences, what emerges from the method is allusive somewhat than narrative; evocations of a extremely private expertise of recollection, somewhat than documentary. That is a part of what renders Sami’s work so compelling: that they meet our want to know from the opposite facet, to discover a counter to the lurid tropes of journalism.
The Level 0 is a superbly put in exhibition, taking us in a sluggish crescendo from the diminutive 2020 portray that provides the present its identify, by to the magisterial One Thousand and One Nights, 2022. The Level 0, 2020, is a view by the ‘O’ of an airplane window, looking onto a sea of sand. That yr, the artist returned to go to Baghdad, following his father’s demise. The portray, in all its simplicity, publicizes the journey made by reminiscence, from exile.
Sitting subsequent to it’s The Meditation Room, 2022 – a portray that encapsulates most of the qualities that one finds in Sami’s works. For a begin it’s fairly large, imposing. One is struck by the ostensible shortage of the subject material: giant areas of the canvas are virtually featureless brown wall. Here’s a darkened inside house, perhaps home, perhaps not. Excessive on the dealing with wall is the portrait of a person in navy fatigues; you may’t see his face as it’s hung too excessive; we assume it’s Saddam Hussein. Sturdy, golden daylight outlines the door, which is simply simply ajar, and casts a shaft throughout the ground and up the other wall. Two additional beams of daylight categorical the intrusion of the surface world into this quiet inside. A rug on the ground is rucked up into folds.
For almost all of us who’ve by no means visited Iraq ourselves, our repository of visible associations would possibly stretch to recollections of 19th century ‘orientalist’ work, that usually featured luxuriant, intricately patterned textiles, opulent robes, and honey-coloured structure. A part of a European fantasy of a world of sensuality and freedom from repressive western mores, color, and sample carried out an necessary metaphorical function. In Mohammed Sami’s work, carpets additionally recur – but right here they appear to face in for the human and homely in addition to for the persistence of an historical tradition that transcends current politics. In earlier work there have been piles of rolled carpets which have evoked the service provider in addition to nomadic traditions. Within the Camden present, there’s a portray of a pile of mattresses, every with in a different way patterned covers. It’s monumental and the mattresses fill the canvas from prime to backside and back and forth. It’s titled Ten Siblings, 2021. The language is in some way chilling, and remembers the tone of stories studies. Nothing is clearly acknowledged, however a lot could be very powerfully conveyed. Sami was as soon as given recommendation by Luc Tuymans, to “paint the sound of the bullet, not the bullet.”
Sami’s work are notable for the way in which they describe totally different qualities of sunshine: Sand Storm and the Weeping Traces, each 2022, are nice examples of this. Within the first we peer in by the home windows of a house at an empty couch. The scene is bathed in an unnatural tangerine glow, a flash of mirrored white neon strip mild flares throughout the higher left of the canvas. The ambiance conveyed is unsettling, as if we come to the scene within the aftermath of some dramatic occasion. The Weeping Traces, 2022, exhibits washing strains full of garments strung throughout a avenue to dry. Layers of diaphanous clothes, overlap with their very own shadows, forged on the wall behind. The tones are these of bruises and mourning. As with all Sami’s work, the literal figures of individuals are lacking, but their lives are inescapably current, manifest within the trivia of their materials lives.
One Thousand and One Nights is an enormous canvas filling an entire wall within the second gallery. Solid within the distinctive emerald inexperienced of navy night-vision, it exhibits a large, darkish sky lit up with flares or tracer fireplace. The vivid Prussian blues and phosphorescent inexperienced of the palette give an virtually exalted feeling, like Van Gogh’s Starry Evening, 1889, but right here a ball of fireside, an explosion on the horizon brings us shortly again to historical past. It’s terrifying and delightful suddenly, a horrible, modern elegant.
Arkwright Rd, London NW3 6DG
Opening Instances: Tuesday – Sunday, 11.00-18.00; Thursday, 11.00-21.00
Exhibition open till 28 Might 2023