Video artist Tamara Al-Mashouk, who went to school in Bahrain, is setting the art world alight in more ways than one … as well as picking international awards and critical acclaim.
Born is Saudi Arabia, she moved to Bahrain in 2002, studied and worked in the US and has returned to the kingdom with plans for a new project here after a trip back to the UK to focus on a ‘Gothic gingerbread villa’.
The 29-year-old’s latest video work has received a Highly Commended Award from the Young Masters Art Prize Contest hosted by the Cynthia Corbett Gallery in London which attracted more than 750 entrants.
“It felt great exhibiting among some talented people. I didn’t expect to win anything, especially coming into Young Masters with a video work - that was a surprise.
“Its aim was to spotlight art that has a relationship with the past. In my case this entailed critiquing the history of the male gaze. And, then there’s the Mid-Century Modernist sculptural installation that I built then burnt down!”
Unsurprisingly, her work continues to turn heads and gained attention. Her video titled License III premiered at Gallery 8 in London and she was then invited to exhibit at The Royal Opera Arcade Gallery for the Young Masters 2.0 exhibition among selected shortlisted artists.
Tamara comes with an architecture background and six years of event production experience. She creates video installations for galleries as well as event-based art works for the public sphere.
She has produced large scale events and curatorial projects such as founding an annual all-female outdoor Fine Art Gallery at a music and arts festival in upstate New York and co-founded VISA Collectiv; two female Arab artists concerned with facilitating conversation and creating event based spaces to negotiate complex global conflicts through art.
She also installed a solo exhibit featuring a five-channel video installation in the Mission Hill Gallery, Boston and curated an evening of video art screenings at 555 Gallery as a part of the city’s Artweek event, premiered two experimental video art films at its Museum of Fine Arts and taken part in the group show titled ‘Neither Here nor There’ at the Yuan Museum in Beijing, China.
But her inspiration for art and life started in Bahrain and continues to this day. “I moved to Bahrain in 2002 for high school, went to IKNS and had the quintessential high school experience. It’s been home ever since.
“There’s something really beautiful about Bahrain - not in the traditional sense of being beautiful - I’m so drawn to the open spaces. The places that contain remnants of the past … the open lots.
“I’m obsessed with the monochrome beige in Saar, the graffiti that says ‘Welcome to Vegas Baby’ and that small strip that has Alice in Wonderland on it and the man standing right next to it selling roses. So much source material!
“I currently live in Bahrain although for the past year or so I’ve been travelling a lot. I lived in Boston for nine years first for my undergrad, then a post bac diploma, then a masters, and some work study. “It’s a magical place where I met incredibly talented and thoughtful people. I was able to work on a massive scale in Boston which kept me there and made me really push the limits of what I thought I could do.
“The arts community within academia and the underground is rigorous and challenging while staying really supportive. I left Boston after so long there to do an artist residency at the Brewery Artist Complex in LA. I needed to shake things up and challenge myself in new ways but I’ll always go back to Boston as I’m still a member of an artist collective of event producers, musicians and artists there. And I still have friends there I care deeply about.”
Tamara discovered video art in 2011. “I was transitioning from architecture to art,” she explained, “and video provided the possibility of building worlds inside the screen and then in the tangible world by installing multiple projectors and screens.
“My first solo was a five channel video installation- each screen was 7’ x 4’ that I welded together and hung from the ceiling. I started projecting onto buildings, building massive sculptures in warehouses to project onto, and setting up screens in forests.
“Aside from how satisfying it feels to see the work take on these massive scales, I really just love playing with light and setting up complex systems to project onto- my most recent project in London involved two screens that started out completely hidden from the crowd and then dropped down in a cascade in a choreographed sequence. The projectors were also hidden and lit up as the screens dropped sequentially.”
She then projected live videos onto them in a three-hour long video performance.
The show goes on and Tamara has plenty of plans packing her notebooks.
“I’m always working on several projects at the same time. I have a notebook that has one really messy page per project and my mind kind of travels between them. I’ll see a scene in my head for one video and write it down. The videos kind of build like this until they’re done.
“The one I’m most inspired by right now is a video I plan on filming sometime this year about a house built in 1852 by Thomas Allfree, tutor to the children of Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia, on his return to England.
“I ended up at the house over Christmas and fell in love with it. It has such a rich history and hasn’t had that many owners over the years - those who did own it transformed it while respecting its heritage. It’s become this beautifully quirky incubus of history. It reminded me of the Rokeby Villa in Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors.
"I’ve also been planning a video work I’d like to film in Bahrain too - but that one’s staying mine for a little bit longer!”
License III by Tamara Al-Mashouk
License III by Tamara Al-Mashouk is slow, breathtaking anarchy. It’s six minutes and 38 seconds of a monument burning to the ground in slow motion in the pouring rain.
Al-Mashouk’s work explores a dichotomous existence. One that simultaneously understands and critiques the social politics of being a contemporary Middle Eastern woman.
One that doesn’t reject it, one that celebrates an alternative narrative, her narrative.
Her work is an unbridled exploration of how all of her parts come together and her tone is refreshingly honest and captivating.
License III is the final iteration of a three year series in which Al-Mashouk explores the relationship between the institution and the other. In its first form, License I is a two channel video that pictures Al-Mashouk using her body as a vessel for resistance through playful and challenging performance amongst brutalist architecture. It’s strong, bold, and daring. It leaves us at once exhausted and exhilarated as with each fall she rises.
The sound of her falls echo, and leave us feeling bruised, celebrating our bruises as temporary tattoos of resistance.
License II sees the work transform into the mid-century modernist monument to be ultimately burned for License III. The installation from License II featured three performers, their positions in the massive installation defined by custom built spaces. They are contained and their intersectional narratives are housed within their performance and are freed and celebrated as the structure erupts in flames.
The transformation throughout the series from medium to medium, from narrative to narrative, from video to sculpture and back to video is a testament to Al-Mashouk’s commitment to reworking core concepts and inclusivity. And, it is this same transformation that imbues the finali with explosive definition.
The burn is tragic and beautiful. The burn burns for all of us and we can all celebrate our freedom within the smoke and the entrancing burning embers.
Reminiscent of Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth house and Philip Johnson’s Glass
House, Al-Mashouk deconstructs mid-century modernisms core elements with License III. She brings them to the forefront by the ordering of private and public spaces by placing them, dissected, on display for us. It’s impeccably constructed, it’s white lines draw in space, it’s an uninhabitable home, and what it houses is an anonymous woman. And so, there are few things more satisfying than watching the same woman stand in front of the sculpture, flame in hand.
While the English voice over is bold and empowered, the Arabic is more self-reflective as the artist dissects the relationship between herself, her background and her aspirations. Both, however, weave together stories all too familiar to women globally.
The ambiguity lends itself to the ubiquity of every woman’s experience, and it is this ebb and flow between the personal and the universal, between specificity and obscurity, that creates such a powerful connection to the work.
The editing is fluid, each pan seamless, and each shot absolutely crisp. The pans are reminiscent of Amie Siegel’s camera movement in Provenance, and there is a hint of Ragnar Kjartanssen’s bubbling rebellion.
Each shot celebrates the sensuality of destruction, and the moments of heavy rain juxtaposed with the fire are enchantingly violent.
License III uproots your insides and leaves you wanting more and I for one cannot wait to join Al-Mashouk’s triumphantly dazzling artistic revolution.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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