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Rä di Martino and Nedim Kufi at Sumarria Lunn Gallery

Exhibition preview

CURATED by Noor Kadhim and Piero Tomassoni, this exhibition, entitled [dis]orient, brings together the work of Rä di Martino, an Italian artist whose travels have taken her across North Africa, and Nedim Kufi, an exiled Iraqi artist who now lives and works in the Netherlands.

The show will present a dialogue between the two artists’ works, exploring the relationship between fiction and reality, past and future, and the ethereal concept of home and habitat. In particular, what does home represent for displaced peoples, and to what extent is there an interrelationship between the real and the imagined, when one thinks of home?

While Rä di Martino presents the ruined homes of a fictional future, Nedim Kufi offers a future solution to answer the real destruction of housing in war-torn states. Far more than just a single structure, home represents something much broader than bricks and mortar. It is a state of belonging that exists as much in the mind as within the built environment.

The work of Rä di Martino often deals with the duality between reality and fiction. The artist’s background in theatre and her passion for film emerge in her video work, which is often cinematographic in theme and experimental in nature. However, for some of her most recent works, she has switched medium from video to photography, exploring a different kind of imagery.

Enticed by abandoned Hollywood sets in North Africa, di Martino’s travels in Morocco and Tunisia resulted in a profound engagement with these contemporary ruins. Ranging from basic dwellings to elaborate temples, these sets formed part of the fictional habitat of film characters, today however their ruins appear to substantiate the history of inhabitants that never existed.

Gazing at the remains of the familiar Star Wars set in her series Every World is a Stage triggers a sense of mild discomfort, as the delusionary power of the human imagination is realised. A film that has been capable of projecting us into the distant future has ironically left behind ruins that look as ancient as any imperial palace or historical edifice. Only by coming closer, and knocking on the structures’ walls, does the onlooker realise that these walls are made of plywood and plaster.

Born in Rome and residing in Turin, New York and London, di Martino’s interest in Luke Skywalker’s house, portrayed in the series No More Stars (Star Wars), currently shown in the Tate Modern’s exhibition Ruins in Reverse, is born of the artist’s longing for a home of her own.

The concepts of home and displacement have been explored by Nedim Kufi in a different, more utilitarian manner. Kufi presents a unique concept for a type of recessed dwelling, part of the artist’s interest in offering an urban habitation solution for his homeland, Iraq. For those whose missing homes can only be replaced, Kufi’s designs ensure that all residents will enjoy equality below the ground. The relationship between earth and sky, and the cool and peaceful bunker-like security of the underground home, were Kufi’s inspiration.

Mapped over these structural models, the artist depicts a lost generation of fellow students he knew from his youth in 1970’s Baghdad, the era he refers to as Iraq’s golden age. Drawn from Kufi’s own dusty photographs, the identity of his youthful subjects is intentionally prolonged in his new work, even as their images fade away in ageing negatives.

Kufi transposes these young people as the potential owners of these ‘Nether Homes’, whose faces leave permanent imprints on the structures independent of any physical experience of the space. “God knows where those kids are right now… are they still alive? Are the homes that I am creating just a maze? In my mind, these pictures, and their structures, represent a longing for tolerance, acceptance and (above all) equality in a country that in recent years has known so little of these things”.

In addition to the ‘Nether Home’ structures, Nedim presents a series of photographs of the Palestinian residents of Jaffa during the 1930’s. The photographs originally appeared in a book by a Dutch photographer who travelled in Palestine, Frank Scholten, and who was inspired by the simple lives of the residents to document their lives.

Discovering the book by chance in a second-hand store, Kufi was moved to transpose real Dutch flowers, which he found between the pages of the book, onto Scholten’s images, to preserve this cultural juxtaposition. Here evidence of the Jaffa residents’ existence is now framed within the perception of those who never knew them in a relationship that simultaneously affirms and subverts the Orientalist notion of the ‘other’.

Exhibition Dates: June 6 to June 28, 2013.

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Friday 11am – 6pm, Saturday 12 – 5pm.

Sumarria Lunn Gallery, 36 South Molton Lane, Mayfair, London, W1K 5AB