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The chaotic act of consuming

Sophia Al Maria’s new series of works highlight the consequences of consumerism on modern society and the addiction to mindless shopping

  • Sophia Al Maria, The Litany, 2016, Digital video, Durations variable, StillImage Credit: Supplied
  • Sophia Al Maria, Rocket, 2017, Digital printImage Credit:
  • Sophia Al Maria, Retreat, 2017, Digital printImage Credit:
  • Sophia Al Maria, Rendition, 2017, Digital printImage Credit:
  • Sophia Al Maria, Tear Gas Toner, 2017, Digital printImage Credit:
  • Sophia Al Maria, Youth, 2017, Digital printImage Credit:
Gulf News

In the centre of the gallery, rows of shopping trolleys laden with packets of junk food lie helter-skelter as if a shopping centre has been looted. A cacophony of sounds emanates from videos playing on recycled electronic devices attached to each trolley. Other works in the show include a sinister video shot in a mall and a series of images running across the walls that juxtapose consumerist slogans with military jargon.

Together, these works in Sophia Al Maria’s exhibition, Everything Must Go, create an immersive experience that captures the chaotic, almost apocalyptic act of consuming, highlighting the consequences of consumerism on modern society.

The London-based artist, who is of Qatari and American origin, grew up in Doha and is all too familiar with the allure of malls and the addiction to mindless shopping.

“I have always loved going to malls and I get seduced by the promise of cosmetic products like ‘micellar water’ and ‘age-defying creams’. This project was triggered by a feeling of deep emptiness and the realisation that by going to the mall and shopping compulsively, I was filling my emptiness with nothing. It is actually my attempt to find a way out from this environment where the visual noise created by every shop window, product, tag and offer, numbs your mind. Although this body of work is about self-introspection, the fact is that this is a common problem today and we all need to think about it,” the artist says.

Al Maria explores her own feelings as well as the deeper layers of consumerism and its corrosive effect on our planet in a video projection titled, Black Friday, and the Litany series of videos, both recently exhibited in a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In Black Friday, her camera follows two ghost-like figures as they walk through an empty mall in Doha. With images of escalators seemingly going up to the sky, larger than life interiors, close-ups of architectural elements, accompanied by a haunting sound track, there is a sense of the mall being some ancient temple, left behind by an extinct race that still haunts the place. The visuals and the sounds, which include a poem by the artist, convey the idea that in today’s consumerist culture, malls are the temples dedicated to capitalism, and going to the mall is like a ritual for most people. However, those who go there to seek solace leave with shopping bags full and emptiness inside, mindlessly following a self-destructive path.

The Litany series includes more than 100 individual videos playing on recycled smart phones clipped onto the shopping trolleys in the central installation. The videos feature a blend of imagery such as beautiful bodies from advertisements, junk food, war footage, screaming shoppers fighting over bargain offers, exploding gadgets, collapsing buildings, currencies, wolves, destroyed landscapes, and oil drills — all suggesting different facets of consumer culture and collapsing systems.

The artist has also created a new series for this show titled Everything Must Go where she has playfully juxtaposed emblems of consumerism with military jargon to create amusing and ironic connections between the two. The images in this series of 100 works are digital collages of stills from the Litany series. Printed on the images are military idioms, cosmetics terminology, political jargon and words from environmental science that come together to create phrases such as ‘infiltration spray’ and ‘greenhouse glow’.

“I want to invite viewers to create their own combinations of words. These images and words may seem unrelated, but they are connected by the fact that consumerism, capitalism and war can all be traced back to the desire to control resources; and that consumerism is actually war against ourselves and our planet,” Al Maria says.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.

Everything Must Go will run at The Third Line, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz until April 1.