Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Bassam Al-Sabah at The LAB

A few weeks ago, I made my way into Dublin's The LAB gallery in order to see an exhibition by Basam Al-Sabah, Illusions of Love Dyed by Sunset. I first came across Al-Sabah when he was an art student at IADT a few years ago, and I was curious to find out how his work was developing.

I did a double-take at the entrance: in previous exhibitions at The LAB, the small square space gallery was used to exhibit a different artist than the main space, but here was an introduction to Al-Sabah's work. The colourful drapery beautifully printed with spaceships and rockets could have been from a child's bedroom (curtains or bedclothes).

In the corner of the space, there were roughly made, unglazed clay forms, which despite their organic shape seemed distinctly ominous and malevolent to me.

The main room displayed a number of individual works in a variety of media, but one could tell that a story was unfolding and further examination would be enlightening.

I am not sure whether it was from a direct conversation I had had with Bassam Al-Sabah or a written accompaniment to his work at some point, but I remember being struck by him recounting that he thought their had been musical drumming at night when he was a child in Iraq - only later understanding that this was the sound of his city being bombed. As one might expect, such a strong memory informs the Al-Sabah's work: innocence, loss, melancholy, a certain sadness and fear feature poignantly in images of family and the remnants of anime cartoons that Al-Sabah watched when he was a child.

While not hugely au fait with the world of anime myself, I could recognise a circling hero figure seeming very confused in a video tower piece.

This same hero figure was portrayed as broken on a nearby table, hero body parts intermingled with human body parts. The broken pieces for me displayed a shattered innocence, a child's identification with the hero, both fictional hero and human child reduced to "doll" parts.

Against the furthest wall, at mantle level, were several shelves containing images obviously painted from family photographs encased in resin, almost as an attempt to preserve the images. The simplicity of this group display was given a huge amount of power after watching the longer video behind the wall, in a separate room.

An almost architecturally sterile cgi video of a house walk-through with a difference. There were a few personal pointers within the rooms: a paper bag on the floor in the kitchen, a fridge magnet of a family photo, Persian designs on furniture upholstery. Ominously though, something was intruding from the outside world -- via radio and tv -- forms and shapes were enveloping the architecture. Most of the soundtrack to the video walk-through is droning and eerie, but then towards the end there is voice-over and subtitles translating the speech of Al-Sabah's Grandmother. Full of sorrow for her dispersed family, as her children and their families leave the dangers of Iraq for various countries, she burns all family photos. Home is no longer home.

Illusions of Love Dyed by Sunset is a powerful exhibiton and I think personally momentous work for Bassam Al-Sabah that allows me to empathise with experiences so far removed from the safety of my own.

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