Susan Hefuna: BeYond NoThing
Susan Hefuna works and exhibits internationally across a wide range of media, including drawing, sculpture, and installation as well as video, photography and performance. Coinciding with a major solo show organized by the Sharjah Art Foundation, Hefuna’s second solo show with Pi Artworks Istanbul will focus on her textile works, exploring the visual and cultural signifiers that have come to embody her unique inter-cultural identity.
Susan Hefuna has been creating her striking graffiti-like textile works since 2001. Encompassing costumes, installations and textile wall pieces, she draws on a variety of influences and traditions from around the world and, in doing so, has developed her own unique artistic language. Her textile works are informed by the aesthetics of Africa and Japan, the traditional craft of American quilts and storytelling, with their iconic layered cloth patchworks, as well as the Egyptian heritage of tent making, or Khayamiya, of Old Cairo. Using Egyptian cotton, khayamiyas are often elaborately patterned and feature colourful appliqué designs to brighten up the interior of tents.
Hefuna also works on Egyptian cotton, creating connected dots and lines, structures familiar from her multilayered drawings, and evocative of the architectural structure of her well known large-scale mashrabiya screens, which also feature extensively in her body of work. In textile diptychs such as Here Now or in the triptych Beyond Nothing, these connected white dots and lines appear like constellations, a stellar network stretching out against a night-time sky of the black cotton, a galaxy of words, shapes and colours. She also incorporates Arabic and English letters and words, stitching them onto the fabric to create new appliqué designs, either transcribing existing words and phrases, or creating her own words. Sometimes words and letters metamorphose, turning into new images that are barely readable. At other times, the colourful collages of word and text play with multiple layers of meaning. Some refer to popular culture, as evident in Anta Omri, which refers to legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum’s songs, while others, including Sabr Gamil (‘Patience is Beautiful’), draw on traditional sayings in Arabic, English and German culture. This mixture of letters, structures, and words triggers varying emotions and feelings in the viewer, depending on their own cultural and social background and personal understanding of the many inter-cultural allusions within Hefuna’s work.
BeYond NoThing, at Pi Artworks Istanbul from 5 April – 3 May, marks the first time that Hefuna’s textile works are exhibited by themselves. Featuring new and existing works, they embody the poetic way in which the artist examines the meaning of words beyond words, and their ability to trigger layers of memories and emotions of the observer.