Critics’ Picks

Ala Younis, Baghdad Diaries – Bread Tree, 2018, ink-jet print, 14 x 11".

New York

Ala Younis

17ESSEX
17 Essex Street
April 21 - June 2

Ala Younis walks such a fine line between art and nonart that it is thrilling to follow her, even through piles of meticulous (read: boring) research, to see where she’ll land. Ten years ago, Younis created a memorable installation of discarded sewing machines (and a related video), titled Nefertiti, 2008, delving into the history of manufacturing as a nationalist, notably unfeminist endeavor in Egypt. In 2015, she unveiled Plan for Greater Baghdad, which took a handful of old 35-mm slides, taken by the architect Rifat Chadirji, of a gymnasium—designed by Le Corbusier and named after Saddam Hussein—in the Iraqi capital as the starting point for a multilayered narrative about art, history, power, and form. Then Younis took the whole thing and redid it as a palpably feminist concern.

In Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad, 2018, Younis revisits the fraught, often embarrassingly macho story of the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium, which took twenty-five years to realize, and wonders, explicity, where are the women? Through a collection of prints, resin figurines, and plastic models, she presents the experiences of seven possible answers via women whose work figured into the gymnasium saga in one way or another, including the artist Nuha al-Radi and the architect Zaha Hadid. The connections are tenuous, but the process—of discovery and inquiry, rumination and association—is wondrous and critical. Here, the pieces of Plan (fem.) are squeezed into a tiny Chinatown storefront (earlier iterations in London and Dubai had more space). They look like curios or the flotsam of mass manufacturing. Younis’s work for Plan (fem.) would make a great book. The piece already exists as an excellent artist’s talk. But in the tiniest of details—the figure of a woman cradling a pile of books, for example—it holds up as an artwork, too.