A portfolio presentation by visiting artist Hamra Abbas Wednesday fostered a discussion of iconography in popular culture and contemporary art among students of the art theory and practice department.
“Typically, visiting artists are chosen by invitation only through the department,” said Crystal Heiden, event organizer and graduate student. “(Abbas) is an accomplished artist in that she has an impressive exhibition record.”
Abbas’ work features dramatic, absurdist interpretations of widely accepted Middle Eastern traditions rendered in video, photography, sculpture and various other mediums. She is the 2011 winner of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, and her work has been displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum, San Francisco Art Institute and Asia Society Museum in New York, where she is currently based.
The slideshow presentation included the video “Why Do Fake Hands Not Clap,” which uses irony to convey dissonance between the concept of applause and the violence caused by images of model hands shattering against each other in repeated clapping motions. A collection of panoramic photographs of an Istanbul landscape digitally stripped of its iconic minarets, “Cityscapes,” was also included. “Love Yourself” featured erotic toys disguised as weapons such as grenades or bullets, and Abbas’ sculptural portfolio contained life-size Plasticine amorous couples called “Lessons on Love.”
Prof. Lane Relyea said he found trends of political commentary and absurdist drama prevalent in Abbas’s work particularly interesting.
“The first couple of pieces, you get a sense of violence and oppression based on ideas that are really kind of traumatic,” Relyea said.
Abbas said she typically chooses ordinary things as subjects, which partly contributes to the absurdity of her art.
“Absurdity makes the subjects more digestible, less in-your-face, and it adds an element of interaction with the audience,” she said.
Heiden said Abbas is currently part of an NU faculty search and may work for the University at some time in the future. She is applying for the visiting artist position at AT&P, which is a yearlong position catering to artists who want to teach but do not want to be tied down to a long contract.