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Traces of humans

Four artists highlight the intrinsic and associative qualities ofpaper and explore how this fragile medium affects their work

Image Credit: Supplied
Works on paper: (Left) Marwan Sahmarani, Napoleon, 2011; Selma Gurbuz, Sun Lonely Bride, 2013; Shahpour Pouyan, Untitled 3 (right)
Gulf News

The summer show at Lawrie Shabibi gallery, “Traces”, brings together works by Tunisian-Russian artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Lebanese artist Marwan Sahmarani, Turkish artist Selma Gürbüz and Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan. All four artists work with various media, but this show is focused on their works on paper, and on the theme of how this fragile medium is a means of recording and preserving physical, cultural and historical traces of human beings.

Kaabi-Linke is displaying a work from an ongoing project where she creates imprints on paper of historically or symbolically significant walls in Berlin and Tunis, which are then transferred on to canvas. The idea behind this series is to examine links between recent history and the distant past. This piece, titled “Baruther Strasse”, features an imprint of a wall from a 19th-century graveyard in Berlin. “The tiny graveyard gradually developed into a large cemetery as wealthy families began to build tombs and crypts, which eventually formed an imposing wall around the place. I found this wall interesting because the history of how this unplanned graveyard grew into a huge cemetery reminded me of the way squatters occupied empty spaces around Berlin in the 1980s and 1990s,” the artist says.

In the Middle East, handmade paper has traditionally been used for miniature painting. And one can see traces of that ancient art form in the way Sahmarani and Gürbüz have painted on paper. Sahmarani’s ethereal paintings on almost-translucent paper comment on the political situation in the region. At first glance they look like just splashes of paint. But concealed within the delicate strokes and multiple washes of colour are comical militaristic figures, angry protestors, body parts and hybrid human-animal forms. On the other hand, Gürbüz has used felt pen and coffee beans, on thick handmade paper to create her dreamy, whimsical, doodle-like drawings of birds and nests that are reminiscent of illuminations in ancient manuscripts.

In the past, Pouyan has also used techniques and motifs from Iranian miniatures in his work. But his recent works on paper are very different and done on a grand scale. Over the past few years he has been exploring the idea and history of power and domination through his paintings of monuments built for self glorification by ancient rulers and installations of weapon-like objects. The New York-based artist continues his exploration of the theme in these large-scale drawings and paintings on paper. He is displaying three artworks from his “Aggregat” series, which depicts the engine of a V2 rocket, an early ballistic missile produced by Germany during the latter part of the Second World War using forced labour from the concentration camps. Werner Von Braun, the designer of this rocket was later captured by American soldiers and brought to the United States, where he worked on the country’s space programme. Pouyan has used metallic paints and a lustrous finish to highlight the form of the engine; and he has played with the shape to create allusions to religious monuments, and phallic forms in a reference to power stemming from ideology and military might. And to highlight the connection between power and ideology, he has superimposed his gigantic drawings of the engines on the ground plans of an Ottoman mosque, a Buddhist Stupa and a Christian cathedral, drawn with faint pencil strokes.

“My recent work is about the connection between technology and power. The Second World War triggered a surge in the development of technology, and these engines, which I saw in a history museum in Germany, signify a peak in the development of technology. On the other hand, the architectural plans in the background represent important ancient cultures with different religious and political ideologies. By juxtaposing the two, I am trying to examine the connection between power and ideology. The inventor of this engine worked in two ideologically different situations, first with the Nazis and then in the US. And it is interesting to see how technology arising from different belief systems was used in the power games for domination. The plans in the background take you back in history and refer both to the fact that the idea of the development of military weapons was rooted in ideology, and to the victims of those weapons and ideologies. I wanted to use paper for this work because it has that scientific quality, which complements the subject of technological and architectural drawings, and it represents a bridge between classical and contemporary times,” the artist says.


Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.


“Traces” will run at Lawrie Shabibi gallery, Al Quoz, until July 18.



Carbon 12 gallery’s summer presentation, “My Father was Many and I am Happy as a Sailor Part II”, is the third part of a trilogy by Austrian artist Philip Mueller. The show features a series of monumental paintings in which the artist explores how various people and events throughout history have influenced his personality and his perspective on life. Although his quest is personal, the artist seeks answers to universal questions such as Who are we? Where are we coming from? Where are we going?

The show also includes the presentation of the young artist’s first monograph.

The show will run at Carbon 12 until September 6.