On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Alliance Française Abu Dhabi, two local-based artists, painter Bénédicte Gimonnet and painter/photographer Isabelle Avenarius shared an exhibition that showcased their perception of the urban and natural landscapes of the Middle East drawing inspiration from Arabian Art and culture.
Beautifully arranged around the Alliance's premises, the displays take on an entirely new dimension once the inspiration behind each is translated into words. To shed light on her photography, art and the mechanics of her work, Isabelle Avenarius took the time out of her very busy schedule for a quick chat with BookFabulous.
BookFabulous (BF): The photographs on display are brilliant, but you started out as a painter. So, what got you interested in photography?
Isabelle Avenarius (IA): Yes, I am a painter but I was interested in experimenting with other visual medias and using a camera like a pencil. All this experimenting led to my first Photo-series 'Impressions Naturelles' in 2008.
BF: How do you get inspired to start on a project?
IA: I am mostly inspired by the contrast in a new environment and its features (nature, architecture and light).
BF: Tell us a little about the collaboration between yourself and Bénédicte Gimonnet to produce this exhibition ‘City, Desert and Sea’?
IA: As we recently discovered each other’s work, we found out that we were inspired by similar subjects but using different techniques. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Alliance Française in Abu Dhabi, Bénédicte and I proposed the concept of a visual dialogue between her painting and my photography.
BF: Which of the pieces on display did you most enjoy working on and why?
IA: The 'Serie Mosaiques' is a tribute to the traditional Arabian Art. Each time I am using slightly different techniques (Illusion of a wood inlay work or a stone mosaic with a geometrical pattern), it is always a new challenge. My favourite piece is called 'The Marina', the first creation that inspired the other pieces of work in this series.
BF: I understand that the series is not all on exhibit here, does that mean we can expect future additions?
IA: Yes there are more works to come. The exhibition at The Alliance Française is a preview of the entire 'Serie Mosaiques' that is yet to be exhibited in full.
BF: You have previously exhibited in different places around the world, how was the experience of working on ‘City, Desert and Sea’ in Abu Dhabi different to that?
IA: So far I have exhibited in Paris, Zurich, Zermatt and Germany (online Gallery whitewall). My work there was mostly inspired by the landscapes of Northern Europe, France, Switzerland and Peru. Now, in Abu Dhabi, I describe the encounter of the city with its natural surroundings. So I am also focusing on architectural photography using geometric patterns influenced by the Arabian Art.
BF: Regarding the type of gear; Does using the best equipment necessarily translate into the best photo?
IA: Photography is not all about your equipment. It is about observation and inspiration, capturing the subject, the light and movement at the right time. It is also about your interpretation of what you see and creativity.
BF: So, what advice would you give to budding artists to hone in their skill even if they cannot afford the best equipment?
IA: Even with a simple camera practice a lot and discuss your work with other photographers.
BF: Back to painting. Is there any work in the pipelines right now?
IA: This photography 'Serie Mosaique" was initially inspired as I was painting the nature around me [in Abu Dhabi]. However, I have not been painting recently although I always keep in mind using both techniques together.
BF: Since BookFabulous is obsessed with all things books, what books have influenced your artistic journey and what are you reading right now?
IA: My artistic journey is mainly influenced by visual experiences while travelling rather than by my reading. However, I am presently reading a trilogy called 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
The exhibition runs until Saturday, March 22, at the Alliance Française, Abu Dhabi.
Last week I went to see the artist Dor Guez's exhibition held at London's Mosaic Rooms. This is the first UK solo show by the artist who is both Christian Palestinian and Jewish Tunisian. Part of Mosaic Rooms' cultural project 'Disappearing Cities', the exhibition aims to bring to the forefront the experiences of the Christian Palestinian minority who remained in the State of Israel after the 1948 war. Guez addresses the impact this decision has had not only on the generation that lived through it but also on the subsequent generations who continue to live there. A minority that finds itself marginalised by the narratives of the region.
This is a very small exhibit consisting of two video installations ('40 Days' & 'Watermelons Under the Bed') in addition to several showcase tables displaying Palestinian Identity Cards and passports dating back to the British Mandate (1920-1948) and belonging to three generations of the Monayer family who are relatives of the artist himself. Hanging on the walls are a number of 'scanograms' (scanned archival images) from Guez's family album. To see a sample of these and to view the artist's work click HERE.
The video installation '40 Days' - the family's mourning period when a loved one dies - is a 15-minute two-channel video installation about the destroyed grave sites in the Christian Palestinian cemetery in the city of Lod. Tombstones charred and desecrated (a skull is visible in one photo) and where once there must have been a metal cross, the family have painted one on with black paint due to theft that is rampant in the area. The cemetery is unkempt exuding neglect and abandonment mirroring much of how the Christian community in the area feel. A people with little say in what happens politically in the volatile area around them - quite simply 'a minority within a minority' - trying to get by as best they can given the predicaments they are faced with.
The installation I found the more powerful was the video 'Watermelons Under the Bed'. In a mere eight minutes the artist manages to summarise what this whole exhibition is about: Personal identity and how to define it in a land rife with turmoil. An explanatory sign at the entrance to the room explains that 'the narrator in the video is Samih Monayer, second generation to the Israeli Occupation who recounts how his family had to adjust to their new life and how this has reflected on who he is today and how it has impacted on his own children as well'. A clip on YouTube, not shown at the exhibit, properly explains how the Monayer family view themselves and their situation. Click HERE to view.
'Watermelons Under the Bed', at first glance, seems a candid way for the Monayer family to talk about the family history. But on second and third viewing, you hear and notice other things: the voice of Samih's female relative (who we hear but do not see) instructing him not to speak of politics lest he jeopardise his job, Samih himself recalling his childhood unease when briefly attending the nearby Arab school and Samih's grandfather whose mood fluctuates between candid defiance and despondent resignation. Nobody is fully at ease and they all continually pause to think of what they are going to say next and how they are going to say it. This is a family who is the direct product of a conflict that carves its mark day after day and year after year on every Palestinian family's history and personal identity.
It would be interesting to know how the Palestinian Christians will judge these videos. Will they see it as one Christian family's attempt to justify the life they have chosen for themselves in Israel or will they take offence that the Monayer family should presume that all Christian Palestinians share their view? Another question that poses itself is should the Christian Palestinians have to explain themselves in the first place?
Exhibitions such as this one, although riddled with connotations, are important. In my opinion they serve as a reminder that time waits for no man and whether or not a permanent resolution to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict is near or far, we are forced to acknowledge the influence Israel's presence has already had on Palestinian ideas of history, culture and a collective identity. In the end, like it or not, we are all a product of the environment we live in.
Dor Guez is the founder of the ongoing project The Christian Palestinian Archive which according to the artist's post on ArtSpace relies on photographs and documents to "research and document the diasporic community of Christian Palestinians living throughout the Middle East." On another front, June 2012 saw the laying of the cornerstone for the "Palestinian Museum" in Birzeit, a museum which according to its website is 'dedicated to the exploration and understanding of the culture, history and society of Palestine and the Palestinian people'. It will be interesting to see whether projects undertaken by artists such as Guez will be considered and whether future collective work collaborations will be possible once the museum opens in 2014.
Share your opinion with me:
If you've been to the exhibition, what did you make of it? If you haven't been, you can still do so as the exhibition continues until the end of May.
However, for those of you NOT in London, you can click below to view the video "Watermelons Under the Bed' that has been posted on YouTube and maybe let me know what you think?