DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM is pleased to present Yellow Skirt, the first solo show in Europe by Fatma Shanan (b. 1986 in Julis, IL / lives and works in Julis). In her new figurative-abstract oil paintings created for the exhibition, Shanan arranges complex relationships between bodies and spaces. Three large and several more intimately scaled paintings depict female figures, which Shanan describes as representations of herself, in diverse settings: reclining, floating above a carpet, stooped in front of a window, or in an open green field. The rugs in her compositions are not just networks of vibrant color and a reference to the Druze culture in which she was raised; they also function importantly as territories within the picture and mediators between bodies and architecture.
Raising questions concerning the meanings of specific places and how we relate to them and to ourselves, Shanan’s works shatter the bounds of identity and bodily presence in space. As the artist states directly in Doron J. Lurie’s The Carpet as Heterotopia: “In my paintings there is always a place, always an environment and always an examination of the relations between people and space. (…) Every place presents new challenges, yet the fundamental question is about the character of the space and the way it recharges my recurring themes. When a person changes place, whether by leaving their hometown or their homeland, the new environment places them face to face with their origins. In fact, they must examine how their place of origin is made present in space.“
Shanan’s figures are shrouded in a state of alienation from their surroundings that is never unambiguously characterized. Have they fallen into a deep sleep or a kind of trance, is their self-absorption a form of inner resistance to the viewer’s importunate gaze or a peaceful and meditative coexistence with the pictorial space? The artist’s body as it appears in her pictures is rigid and passive, but it is never isolated from its context. Her work suspends the difference between figure and ground that defines classical portraiture, for the body cannot be thought without its environment.
In the works in the exhibition YELLOW SKIRT, it is time and again fabrics that effect this fusion of body and environment. The carpets, embodying the idea of color as place, seem to extend the figures into the space around them until all contours become indistinct. The titular garment in the painting “Yellow Skirt and Pink Flower” (2019) seems to awaken to a life of its own, its dynamic lines coalescing into an angular and voluminous sculpture that imbues the picture with the very motion that the recumbent body refuses to perform. The artist’s fascination for abstract color field painting is especially recognizable in the sketch-like “Floral Stocking” (2017).
In “Floating Self” (2019), Shanan’s painting transcends the laws of physics, giving the idea of coming adrift a Surrealist twist. Jettisoning the cliché of the flying carpet as a means of conveyance through space and time, it is the body of the reclining woman itself that levitates, hovering, straight as a pole and apparently impassive, in an interior from a dollhouse. The escape takes place in the mind alone, requiring no breakage or exertion of bodily force. And as though the unruly woman’s cunning victory over gravity were dismantling space itself, the floor appears to open up in the picture’s foreground.
The dominant element in the self-portrait “Green Window” (2018/19) is a large window looking out onto an exterior that exuberant vegetation has turned into a composition in various shades of green. One might almost overlook the stooped female figure concealing her face near the bottom edge of the picture. In “Field” (2019), the same tiny and oddly sculptural body—it is again the artist’s own—appears in the same pose in an open field. Yet by moving into a wider space, allowing the gaze to wander toward the distant horizon, Fatma Shanan’s art hardly cracks the shells of the painted bodies. Her compositions engage questions of being-in-the-world and the performative idea of carving out a physical and spiritual place.
Fatma Shanan studied with Eli Shamir and at the Oranim Academic College, Israel. Works by Shanan were included in the group exhibition ONLY THROUGH TIME TIME IS CONQUERED at the gallery in 2018. Shanan has won numerous fellowships and was awarded the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Haim Schiff Prize in 2016. An extensive solo exhibition of Shanan’s work on occasion of the award was presented at the museum in 2017. The catalogue accompanying that show is also available from the gallery.