Debut works of artists Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska on view at SAF - GulfToday

Debut works of artists Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska on view at SAF


Installation view of Feast Wagon, 2015, part of Plaited Time-Deep Water exhibition.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) is debuting an exhibition, showcasing the work of internationally renowned artists and longtime collaborators, Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska (Oct. 29, 2023 - Jan. 28). Alongside four new commissions, including a major collaborative installation and three additional works by Stawarska, Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska: Plaited Time/Deep Water also presents recent and reimagined works that respond to Sharjah’s architecture, soundscapes and proximity to the sea. The exhibition — Himid’s and Stawarska’s first in the region — highlights their continued exploration of language and memory through their individual practices and ongoing partnership, with works spanning painting, installation, sound and more. On view in the galleries and courtyards of SAF’s Al Mureijah Square, the exhibition is curated by Dr. Omar Kholeif, SAF Director of Collections and Senior Curator.

Turner Prize–winning artist Himid (b. 1954, Zanzibar) is known for her innovative approach to painting as well as installation and writing, often depicting overlooked scenes of everyday life. One of the preeminent artists of the British Black Art Movement in the 1980s, she has been pivotal to the ongoing debate and recognition of the Black experience and women’s creativity within the UK. Stawarska (b. 1976, Poland) explores memory through a practice that includes sound, performance, moving image and photography, created from a process of ‘inner listening’, which involves observing and responding to cities in dialogue with their inhabitants. The artists began collaborating nearly two decades ago; in the years since, Stawarska has created soundtracks for several of Himid’s installations and Himid has performed in some of Stawarska’s sound projects. Their combined practices come together in their respect for the medium of sound and their respective explorations of humanity and its histories.

At the heart of the exhibition is a newly imagined presentation of Zanzibar (1998–2023), a series of paintings by Himid that recount several stages of her lifelong journeys of return, including her migration from Zanzibar to the UK and back. In the reimagining, Zanzibar is transformed into a multisensory installation, situating Himid’s paintings within Stawarska’s sonic environment, inviting visitors to look, listen, linger and resurface their own memories. A major collaborative work is Plan B: A Libretto (2023), a newly commissioned 4-channel sound installation that responds to Himid’s Plan B painting series from the late 1990s, presented in a purpose built scenography. Depicting empty buildings in the seaside town of St. Ives, Himid’s original paintings capture feelings of danger and abandonment, with some of the works incorporating first-person narratives of escape and exile.

Secret Study, 2023, at Sharjah Art Foundation spaces.

The new installation features four paintings from the series alongside a libretto created by Himid and Stawarska that adapts the text from the paintings into the Egyptian vernacular Arabic of the coastal city of Alexandria. Echoing the works’ evocation of displacement, the once widely used dialect — much like Alexandria’s coastline itself — has been subject to multiple forms of appearance and disappearance. Another of the commissioned works is Lost and Found (2023), an installation by Stawarska (based on a previous collaboration with Himid) that includes photography of various sites in Sharjah and written texts gathered from Sharjah community members. It results in a dialogue between Stawarska’s work and the people who live in the city — a shared experience of time, place and movement.

Composed over several years, the new mixed-media installation Secret Study (2023) was produced by Himid especially for the exhibition. It consists of numerous items from her private collection of personal artworks (by herself and others), alongside archival material, mementos and more. The installation ventures into the realm of the artist’s inner world, displaying heirlooms and emblems that comfort and inspire her, as well as pieces of a private history that offer an insight into the artist behind the work. Many works in Plaited Time/Deep Water reference Sharjah’s natural and built environment, using maritime motifs and local materials, including found carts and reclaimed wood. The exhibition also explores other frequent themes for Himid and Stawarska, including history, memory, migration and the various manifestations of language. Winner of the 2017 Turner Prize, artist, curator and educator Himid, initially trained in theatre design and later in cultural history, evinces a deep interest in opera in her work and also offers a fresh perspective on the historically male-dominated field of painting.

She breathes life into imagined figures, animated in everyday objects such as carts, drawers and doors or in painted interiors and seascapes. Spanning paintings, installations, exhibition making, sound and writing, her practice challenges the historical erasure of the African diaspora’s contributions. Himid’s work has been shown in solo shows at a number of institutions, and her work is held in public collections at institutions such as the National Museums Liverpool; Tate; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; British Council Collection and Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, USA. Himid has also presented work at Sharjah Biennial 14 and 15 (2019, 2023). Stawarska’s approach to artmaking often begins with explorations of cities. Traversing self-directed routes, she has often been compared to a flaneur — moving freely through each site, cultivating a rhythmic score that reveals a densely layered urban topography.

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