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Iman Issa

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Iman Issa
03.04.15

 

Iman Issa is an artist based in Cairo and New York. Her sculptural series “Heritage Studies,” 2015–, which revisits forms drawn from history, will be featured in the Twelfth Sharjah Biennial from March 5 to June 5, 2015. New iterations of this project will also be on view this year in Issa’s solo presentations at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami (April 2 to October 4) and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (May 18 to June 28).

THIS SERIES started from the feeling that I was coming across elements from the past that resonated with subjects on which I was working at the time. It emerged specifically out of a project I completed in 2013 titled “Common Elements” for which I produced a large amount of material based on existing museum objects and displays. It was interesting to me that I found such material appropriate for illustrating what I deemed as familiar in the personal narratives of four public figures on which I was working at the time, even though these elements had nothing to do with those texts and, in some cases, were separated from them by thousands of years.

And it was while working on that project that I started to wonder why any artist would feel the need to revisit forms from the past, and if this need is identified, how does one go about it without succumbing to an oppressive political project or social agenda? It seemed to me that whenever one looks back, a line is drawn to the present and possibly the future; whether it is one of progression or decline or mere continuity, it didn’t matter.

A project emerged from all of those questions and concerns. I had a feeling that it was indeed essential to revisit these elements and forms from the past, that they would have something relevant to say to the present. Thus came the idea of titling the series “Heritage Studies.” Unlike history, whose study might appear self-evidently constructive, heritage studies seemed to be framed with a practical relevance to the present. As a field it is presented as serving a function, and in many cases that function is clearly articulated. I was drawn to this. In a way, I preferred the essentialist claims of a clearly instrumental field to other ones that might have less apparent agendas when revisiting the past. I was also interested in the idea that these studies I was undertaking would serve a clear need in the present—that they too would have a function.

I was slightly unnerved, though, by the actual forms I ended up producing. I like to think that I go for the most compact way to adequately present my ideas. But for this project, it was clear that the forms had to be large-scale sculptures made out of specific materials, whether from steel, wood, plaster, copper, bronze, aluminum or other. And even though I have made many three-dimensional objects in recent years, I’ve always imagined them to function more like images, whereas it was clear that these elements would function differently. I was enticed to place them in the middle of the room and not against the wall as I had done before. I imagined them to occupy and account for their space as well as the potential movement of the viewers who encounter them in a more aggressive manner. I imagined that they would beg for a different sort of interaction from other recent works.

I also would not be comfortable in calling them copies or remakes since most look significantly different from the objects on which they are based—which brings me to the question of, What do these new elements share with their sources if it is not the material, color, appearance, or shape? The answer that I have been able to come up with, thus far, is that they share a speech act. They are addressing or saying something similar to each other, and it is perhaps through doing that that they become the “same.” It is an ambitious claim to make but one I am eager to propose. And having said that, it is important to stress their status as studies, since in no way am I able to posit these as final or conclusive forms, regardless of how finished or precious their presentation may be. You can think of them as propositions waiting for the one who will come by and say: “No, they should actually look different than this. They should be smaller, bigger, a different color, material, or shape.”

The captions are also an essential part of the work. I rarely think of myself as someone who produces objects, films, or photographs. Rather, I view these works as displays with various elements that interact with and rely on each other as well as on the time, space, and various conditions in which they exist and are presented. Even though the sources sometimes appear hidden in much of my work, I am not interested in hiding things or in having the viewer engage in some sort of guessing game. On the contrary, my ideal imagined viewer is the one who would interact with what is present in the space and only what is present. If I can get someone to look, to truly look and perhaps engage in the conversation I believe I’m starting, then I think I am off to a good start. 
                                           

                                                                                    — As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler