Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Thessaloníki, 07/05/2011 - 09/04/2011
The exhibition Disquieting Muses presents works from 7 contemporary women artists – Mona Hatoum, Lara Baladi, Zineb Sedira, Diana Al-Hadid, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Majida Khattari and Hay Kahraman- whose origin and life experience connects them with the Arab world, although –due to historical and political circumstances- they have chosen or they have been obliged to take distance from their birth places. It deals with the complexity of personal experience and the transformation of feelings of loss and displacement into artistic creation.
In 1957, almost forty years after Giorgio de Chirico’s painting “Τhe Disquieting Muses”, the American poet Sylvia Plath, at the age of 24 years old, wrote a poem with the same title. In her “Disquieting Muses”, the poet initially accused her mother for her recklessness in letting ominous influences invade her daughter’s life from her early childhood. Plath had rejected the conventional education she was obliged to follow, the fragile, idealistic world that her mother had tried to create in favor of her children; instead, she had chosen different sources of knowledge, as she characteristically notes:
I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere,
from muses unhired by you, dear mother.
These two verses capture with exceptional density and clarity a common characteristic of women artists participating in the exhibition “Disquieting Muses”: their longing to transcend whatever restriction imposed on them by their societies because of origin or gender issues, religious or political discriminations, achieving a critical exploitation of tools and practices derived from various cultural systems.
Their attitude could be generally conceived as indicative of an in-between condition, where their denial to conform to a prescribed future in their countries of origin coexisted with the unfulfilled integration in their new social and cultural environments. By that choice, the construction of their identity became a continuous and ongoing process, and the independent character of their artistic creativity was strengthened permitting multiple and sometimes contradictory readings of their work. With the magnetism of their perfectly achieved form, several works of the exhibition create an atmosphere of menace and disquiet provoking mixed responses of attraction and repulsion.
The structured effort to eliminate the strict normative models imposed by family, tradition, and cultural context, and the construction of an inclusive creative identity form the narrative axes both of the poem and the exhibition presented at the Thessaloniki Center of Contemporary Art.
The exhibition explores the complexity of the personal experience and the ways through which artists transform into visual form the experience of expatriation keeping a conscious distance from the system of cultural references in which they were fostered.
The allegorical image of the disquieting muse functions as a common conceptual base and as a symbolic representation of the artist’s freedom to “invite different muses”, i.e. to move selectively between different traditions adopting, rejecting, transforming and reconceptualizing the chosen elements from the various cultures with which the artist is associated. At the same time, it defends the avoidance of standardizations and oversimplifications in issues relating to identity and origin.
The exhibition “Disquieting Muses” is part of the "Thessaloniki: Cultural Crossroads" programme of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism, focussing this year on the Middle East and is implemented with the financial support of OPAP
Curator: Syrago Tsiara, Director CACT