Iman Issa

2 November 2012 - 1 December 2012
Opening Reception 2 November 2012 7pm


Positioned within the interstices of physical reality and personal memory, the diverse practice of Egyptian artist Iman Issa continuously comes back to a critical question: “How does one visually evoke, communicate or signify one’s personal relationship to familiar places, events, and figures?” This question is born of Issa’s profound skepticism, or disbelief in, the pragmatist function of words and images to represent the complex makeup of memory. In recent years, Issa has probed this question against the abstracting background and symbolic language of monuments and memorials.

In presenting not anti, but rather counter-monumental proposals, maquettes, and alternative materials, Issa offers an antithesis to the failed doctrine of official monuments. Four sculptures from Issa’s series Material (2010-11) are on view in the exhibition at Mercer Union. Each display refers to an existing monument that Issa intimately knows from her native city of Cairo. Returning to the question, “How to evoke one’s close knowledge of a monument,” Issa gradually strips the original of its extraneous features (the fixed, “petrified” image of the monument). She thus begins with a blank slate, slowly building up each display until it gains a language of its own, reactivating “memory.”

Conceived prior to Egypt’s uprising and removal of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the displays stem from a moment when images, words, and thus monuments were emptied of their meaning, and the link between signifier and signified became a “ground zero.”

The debate brought on by Issa’s Material underscores the potential of counter-monuments to recall the past through a production of it. A form in construction, in process, a “material,” as she calls it, has a greater capacity to actualize civic and private memory than the timeless physical structure official monuments have hitherto inadequately attempted to create.

(Excerpt from the brochure essay by Natalie Musteata)

Iman Issa is an artist living and working in Cairo and New York. Recent solo and group exhibitions include: The Ungovernables, New Museum, New York (2012); Seeing is Believing, KW Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin (2011); Material, Rodeo, Istanbul (2011); Short Stories, SculptureCenter, New York (2011); and Propaganda by Monuments, Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo (2011). Her video work has been screened at several venues including Transmediale, Berlin; Tate Modern, London; Spacex, Exeter; Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool; and Bidoun Artists Cinema, Art Dubai, Dubai.