New commissions by Lubaina Himid, Magda Stawarska debut at Sharjah Art Foundation

This October, Sharjah Art Foundation debuts an exhibition showcasing the work of internationally renowned artists and longtime collaborators Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska.

Alongside four new commissions, including a major collaborative installation and three additional works by Stawarska, the exhibition titled ‘Lubaina Himid and Magda Stawarska: Plaited Time / Deep Water’ also presents recent and reimagined works that respond to Sharjah’s architecture, soundscapes and proximity to the sea.

The exhibition — Himid’s and Stawarska’s first in the region– highlights the artists’ continued exploration of language and memory through their individual practices and ongoing partnership, with works spanning painting, installation, sound and more. On view in the galleries and courtyards of Al Mureijah Square from 29 October 2023 through 28 January 2024, ’Plaited Time / Deep Water’ is curated by Dr Omar Kholeif, the Foundation’s Director of Collections and Senior Curator.

“’In Plaited Time / Deep Water,’ the personal archive finds its rejoinder in Sharjah’s changing light through lyric, voice and song. The results of Lubaina’s and Magda’s encounters can be experienced across multiple media in this exhibition, as the artists use painting, poetry, language and sound to unfold their own histories and memories, as well as those held within Sharjah,” said Dr Kholeif.

Turner Prize–winning artist Lubaina Himid (b. 1954, Zanzibar) is known for her innovative approach to painting as well as installation and writing, often depicting overlooked scenes of everyday life. One of the preeminent artists of the British Black Art Movement in the 1980s, Himid has been pivotal to the ongoing expression and recognition of the Black experience and women’s creativity within the UK.

Magda Stawarska (b. 1976, Poland) explores memory through a practice that encompasses sound, performance, moving image, and photography, created from a process of ‘inner listening’ which involves observing and responding to cities in dialogue with their inhabitants.

The artists began collaborating nearly two decades ago; in the years since, Stawarska has created soundtracks for several of Himid’s installations and Himid has performed in some of Stawarska’s sound projects. Their combined practices come together in their deep respect for the medium of sound and their respective explorations of humanity and its histories.

At the heart of the exhibition is a newly imagined presentation of ‘Zanzibar’ (1998–2023), a series of paintings by Himid that recount several stages of her lifelong journeys of return, including her migration from Zanzibar to the UK and back. In this reimagining, Zanzibar is transformed into a multisensory installation, situating Himid’s paintings within Stawarska’s new sonic environment, which invites visitors to look, listen, linger, and resurface their own memories.

A major collaborative work is ’Plan B: A Libretto’ (2023), a newly commissioned 4-channel sound installation that responds to Himid’s acclaimed Plan B painting series from the late 1990s is presented here in a purpose-built scenography. Depicting empty buildings in the seaside town of St. Ives, Himid’s original paintings capture feelings of danger and abandonment, with some of the works incorporating first-person narratives of escape and exile.

The new installation features four paintings from the series alongside a libretto created by Himid and Stawarska that adapts the text from these paintings into the Egyptian vernacular Arabic of the coastal city of Alexandria. Echoing the paintings’ evocation of displacement, this once widely used dialect—much like Alexandria’s coastline—has been subject to multiple forms of appearance and disappearance.

Another of the commissioned works is ’Lost and Found’ (2023), an installation by Stawarska (based on a previous collaboration with Himid) that includes photography of various sites in Sharjah and written texts gathered from Sharjah community members, resulting in a dialogue between Stawarska’s work and the people who live in the city — a shared experience of time, place, and movement.

Composed over several years, the new mixed-media installation ’Secret Study’ (2023) was produced by Himid specifically for the exhibition. It consists of numerous items from Himid’s private collection of personal artworks (by herself and others), alongside archival material, mementoes, and more. The installation ventures into the interior realm of the artist’s inner world, displaying heirlooms and emblems that provide Himid with comfort and inspiration as well as pieces of a private history that offer a rare insight into the artist behind the work itself.

Many works in ’Plaited Time / Deep Water’ reference Sharjah’s natural and built environment, using maritime motifs and local materials, including found carts and reclaimed wood. The exhibition also explores other frequent themes for Himid and Stawarska, including history, memory, migration, and the many manifestations of language.

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