Recently I have noticed, the less an artist can say about their own work, the less likely I am to interact with it. The lack of a well drafted artist's statement leads one to believe that the artist is still not entirely convinced or perhaps comfortable with what exactly they are trying to express through their work. The artist's statement for Beirut based artist Tamara Al-Samerraei's solo exhibition Something White is one sentence long.
Going Back to the catalogue for the 2006 group exhibition of women artists Shu Tabkha ya Mara co-curated by Zena el Khalil and Halleh Founouni, Tamara included a brief blurb mentioning her own inability to describe her work. Instead, there is a paragraph signed Najah Taher
“I wonder who those girls are and how much simile there is between them and the artist. The little girls are fragments of her memory, representations of what could have been a thought or a situation, a teasing temptation. They could be little peter pans, fallen angels, or fickle fairies! They are mere shadows.
There is hesitation and stinginess in the work, as if she is afraid of finalizing a statement, like the fear of finalizing a memory. For memories are like shadows, they should keep changing or else they would fade and die.
How long can these peak-a-boo creatures maintain their posture before they get tired, bored, restless, and leave the set?”
While that description rings true, how much more meaningful would it have been if only the artist had described those emotions using her own voice?
The works exhibited in Something White are surreal moments presented to the viewer as eerie vignettes of possible dreams. These girls are preserved, frozen in a space/ time that is not defined. Depending on the point of view, they are either liberated from notions of time and space or isolated from them. The back ground is minimal and non-discript, thereby adding a crucial element of suspense. In fact that is what is compelling about her work, the way in which she captures the tension found in the pause before the climax.
One example of that is Mouse Trap. Caught just before the impending action, the painting depicts a girl mischievously acknowledging the viewer as she is about to put her hand out to trigger the device. This is a game of tempting fate, and the suspense lies in the moment just before the climax, this will hurt and she knows it will hurt, yet the girl continues to threaten the viewer that she is not afraid to consciously hurt herself.
Looking at these images there is a certain familiarity with the use of iconography. Monkeys, stags, or better yet replace the bike for the wheel chair or the hospital bed and these are all objects present in the paintings of Frida Kahlo. Yet these works lack much of the richness, the detail and the intimacy.
The color palette of faded, washed out pastel pinks, greens, yellows and blues dominate Tamra's work. Traces of crimson red add interest to images of her girls at the age of self-discovery. The tone of these works is consistent, mysteriously haunting and ethereal. Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming feeling of self doubt or a lack of commitment that comes across. Is it fear or hesitation emitted from the subject or is it coming from the artist? Are these youthful figures fading from the viewer or are they hesitant marks on a canvas?
Then there is a work like A love Story to restore faith in the artist. The painting is one of the strongest in the exhibition compositionally speaking. A lone girl, clad in a vivid red dress kneels over a stag type animal that is on its back, legs in the air. Her red dress at the same time appears to almost flow from the animal's body. The viewer's eye circles visually clockwise from the girl's head, to the out-stretched hand, to the red dart in the animal and finally back to the red dress. The scene is contained within a half circle that anchors the image, repeating the circle.
With a piece such as this ... Tamara Al Samerraei is an artist to watch for her haunting portrayal of how we hurt ourselves; bows and arrows, guns, mouse traps, life and love.
Tamara Al Samerraei Something White at Agial Art Gallery from December 4th to December 27, 2008