Benedicte Gimonnet’s artwork titled Grand Acacia.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Aisha Alabbar Gallery, Dubai, is soon hosting (Jan. 11 – Feb. 18) In Search of Eden, an exhibition by Benedicte Gimonnet. It is the first solo exhibition of the artist at the gallery, and the UAE-based French painter depicts her journey towards reconciling fragments of her identity. Using plants as symbols of latent attachments, she recomposes botanical environments that challenge geographic standards.
Plants are the protagonists of Gimonnet’s work and she emphasises what grows from the land is metonymic — or a carrier — for the emotions and conditions experienced by other living beings.
Nature has undoubtedly framed her life. As a young child, she was raised by a single mother in Auvergne, France, after the latter’s separation with her Peruvian father, and consequently having to leave behind the two years they had spent living in Peru.
Gimonnet’s mother urged her to forget this side of her roots; but it left a soil-like residue of loss that has continued to reverberate till today in the older artist’s practice. Amid decades in France, then the UK, and now the UAE, those brief yet intensely vivid memories of Latin America live on in symbols of plants in her work.
The genesis of this series goes back to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, when the UAE went into lockdown. Gimonnet was deprived of her usual creative comforts and inspirations: walking and trekking, and of course, travelling.
With memories from a last trip to Seychelles still fresh in her mind, she dove into her subsequently triggered memories of Peru’s plants and forests, letting them go on some aluminium panels she still had in her studio. The free-flowing landscapes, oozing a heady sense of abandonment and escape, offered her “bursts of freedom” during quarantine.
The series continues to grow even now, showing no signs of stopping. Multiple ink drawings have flowered within and outside of the paintings, more intricate and immersive by the day. Some of them are black and white, like the construction drafts of a new paradise, or architectural prints of utopia.
To achieve fresher depths for her plant subjects, Gimonnet is also constantly trying out new juxtapositions of “unmixable materials”, such as oil and vinegar, while taking notes with the erudite taxonomy of a botanist.
For her, Eden represents a place of refuge and solace where she can recharge her batteries and reconnect with herself. But it is also symbolic of the lost paradise of her Peruvian childhood, a root that she had to keep in cold storage for a long time, but that still, like a stubborn leaf in wintry soil, persisted.
It is necessary that Eden is illusory, imaginative, only really grasped through the alchemy of repeated human effort and labour and pushing. Perhaps the search for Eden is an instantly relatable quest – aren’t we all, as Voltaire put it, trying to “cultivate our own garden”?
Yet these artworks represent more than just a ubiquitous Sisyphean process. They are individual complex productions of an individual mind and individual life: this is the artist’s journey.
Gimonnet (b. Clermont-Ferrand, France, 1969) has lived, worked, and been part of the arts ecosystem in the UAE for over 13 years. Her painting practice comprises an explosion of bold colours and technical innovation, mixing supposedly unmixable painting materials together, and creating immersive, intricate, and visually seductive environments.
Through a recent exploration of personal issues with identity loss and recovery, she reconciled with her repressed Peruvian roots, creating new paintings that depict lush and exuberant rainforest environments whose extravagant vegetation acts as an allegory for the mind, mapping a journey of self-discovery and reconnecting with foundations.
The strong colour palette references Peruvian folklore, while the compositions mimic the Amazonian rainforest that reflects the diversity of colourful experiences that shape one’s individuality and identity. Gimonnet has held several solo exhibitions in the UAE, including Confluence (a collaborative exhibition with Dr. Najat Makki), La Galerie, Alliance Francaise, Dubai (2021); Between Macro and Micro, La Galerie, Alliance Francaise, Dubai (2019); Organicus Mundus, Khalidiya Palace, Abu Dhabi (2011); and Infinity Small, Infinity Large, Alliance Francaise, Abu Dhabi (2009).
She has participated in many group exhibitions in the UAE and internationally, including While the Coffee Grounds Settle, Fathom Gallery in Georgetown, Washington, DC (2022); Disconnect & Reconnect (Part one and two), Etihad Modern Art Gallery and Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi. She is participating in the 38th Annual Exhibition — Emirates Fine Arts Society (EFAS), Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah, this year. She is also a member of EFAS. Her works are in a number of collections around the world, including Goldman Sachs and Women’s Museum in Dubai, Abu Dhabi Executive Office, The Art Circle Collection and Khalidiya Palace and Champagne PG P&F Epernay, France, in addition to private collections in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, USA, Russia, Australia, Japan, and in locations in Europe.
Founded in 2018 in Alquoz, Dubai, Aisha Alabbar Gallery is one of the first Emirati-led galleries in Dubai focused on contemporary and modern art by Emirati, local, and regional artists. Being dedicated to UAE-based artists and producing five innovative exhibitions per year, each show is accompanied by immersive activations, talks, and workshops with the purpose of engaging diverse audiences. The gallery seeks to contribute to a lasting, evolving UAE arts ecosystem through its exhibitions, accompanying programming and commissioned publications.
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