Monira Al Qadiri

Gasworks
155 Vauxhall Street
July 13, 2017–September 10, 2017

Monira Al Qadiri, The Craft, 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“The embassy was an alien spacecraft hiding the biggest conspiracy known to man.” I hear this suspicious utterance while sitting in a booth at an artificial American diner—my notebook nestled among salt and pepper shakers, a dispenser of stripy red straws, and bottles of ketchup and mustard—as I immerse myself in Monira Al Qadiri’s installation The Craft (all works 2017). In an accompanying video, the artist meshes old family photographs, shaky VHS footage, and amateur-looking cartoons of extraterrestrials to convey an enigmatic story about her childhood and a galactic conspiracy: a cross between science fiction and autobiography. We see the same diner appear on-screen, not in America, but aboard a UFO, as recounted by the artist’s sister, who allegedly followed her parents onto the ship one fateful night. For the Al Qadiri girls, their parents’ life of international diplomacy at the Kuwaiti embassy in Senegal was in fact a cover for a malevolent otherworldly takeover. Embassy buildings are secret landing pods; flashing lights in the night sky are flying saucers. And the military? “We knew those soldiers weren’t human,” the artist confirms.

In a dark room next to the diner installation, titled The End, a large polystyrene hamburger levitates over a plinth. It is situated next to a speaker from which we hear an excerpt of Saba George Shiber’s book The Kuwait Urbanization (1964), about the expansion of American culture in the country during the 1960s. Americanism is read as alien, anachronistic. For Al Qadiri, the language of exchange has been trivialized. Global negotiation rituals do not unfold in palaces of nostalgic grandeur, but around the laminated tables of the UFO/diner. Culture is replaced by commerce. Is this the new world order?

— Philomena Epps