Selma Feriani Gallery is proud to announce the first London solo exhibition by contemporary Tunisian artist Malek Gnaoui. The exhibition will revolve around his Black Sheep project through recent works made for Abattoir. The show will run from the 4 April to the 17 May 2014.
For several years, a Black Sheep has been appearing in galleries, art centres, exhibitions and fairs. It is intriguing to observe the figure of such an animal in the contemporary art world in Tunisia over the course of time.
The primary use of ceramics, that is to say earth made white by fire, is a constant in Malek Gnaoui's work. White ceramic is created from working with earth. This is the body of the Black Sheep; a recessive figure like the refractory gene that gives black pigmentation to a mammal predisposed to have white pigmentation. Black for sheep is ontological, biological and marginal compared to white. The Black Sheep symbolically reverses this pattern. White matter gives form to a black concept.
Today in art, the term 'concept' (i.e. decades after conceptual art) mostly designates an advertising idea, or marketing. It is no longer about subverting values but about productivity and particularly the selling potential. And yet, the work of this visual artist and ceramicist is a concept in the sense that his work is an abstract representation of an idea. Light always carries an energy, danger.
Red light brings perspective to Have a Knife Day. Light as a matter itself offers a counterpoint to the telluric ceramic. The gallery space can thus be considered to be a dark room lit by a safelight. The place is reversed par excellence and the image emerges from the shadows. Here lies the concept, in a formal and non-mental representation.
Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated and ceramics were the first practiced ʻart of fireʼ. Sheep domestication and the domestic use of ceramics started during the same Neolithic period when mankind became sedentary. Around 10.000 years later, through the firing process they blend into each other and make formal sense in Malek Gnaoui's work. It is indeed these two forms of 'domestication', understood here as servitude and lack of freedom, which are at work in Abattoir (Slaughterhouse) The four installations composing this group are highly political.
Since the Neolithic, evolution has only occurred in terms of possessions, the world is experienced through a mode of controlling one another. The performative and monumental accumulation of 365 knives in Have a Knife Day for example, or the video Black Sheep- Fabrica and its multiple images on a video-surveillance screen, suggests a grave discomfort concerning the control of human beings and things by illegitimate forces, if not civilisational perversion.
Since antiquity, bovines have been used in pagan religious symbolism. With the monotheisms, sheep become the main sacrificial figure: literally so in Judaism and Islam, metaphorically in Christianity (the expression Agnus Dei / Lamb of God refers to Christ and his expiatory sacrifice). Once again, Malek Gnaoui's work is about reversal. The sheep is no longer, literally or metaphorically, the object of a sacrifice by mankind in honour of the Gods or to expiate some mortal sins. Indeed human beings and things are sacrificed by those in power in honour of impalpable profits and out-dated ideas.
Various previous versions of the project Black Sheep contained series of numbers. These were generally references to the civilian status of the artist himself or of his friends and family (numbers on birth certificates or national identity cards). In Abattoir, the artist creates a self-portrait in a sheepskin. Mankind is equal to the sheep on the altar of holocausts: standardised, commodified and consumed.
Therefore the aesthetics at work are about various reversals. These reversals occur via formal dialects, oscillating between two antagonistic poles: accumulation and simplicity. Different decontextualised elements are added to make a single homogenous bloc in the installation State of Waiting, knives multiplied ad libidum and multiple screens in Abattoir, etc., the poetry often operates through a dynamic composition. Accumulation is also found in the media he works with. Indeed even though ceramics are central, various techniques are added practically systematically: video, sound, light, graphics, and mixed media…
But this accumulation is only expressed via an abstraction of forms, monochrome colours, clarity of lines, cool devices, in other words in extreme pureness and austere materials. Ceramics are patiently rubbed towards a smoothness that contrasts with the environment they represent peppered as it is with violence, barbarism and blood.
Black Agnus Dei by Ismaël Lëamsi