Critics’ Picks

Ayan Farah, Subsoil, 2022, terracotta and rust on linen, 86 5/8 x 59".

Ayan Farah, Subsoil, 2022, terracotta and rust on linen, 86 5/8 x 59".


Ayan Farah

Galerie Nordenhake | Stockholm
Hudiksvallsgatan 8
August 19–September 24, 2022

To create the dyes for her patchwork paintings, Ayan Farah brews raw materials for months and sometimes years. She harvests rainwater, sea salt, rust, forest ash, soil, and clay and grows indigo and marigold herself. The artist uses these elements to dye fibrous antique hemp and cotton sheets, hotel-room linens, and other textiles sourced during her travels. The exchange of textiles is part of the choreography of arrival for the Somali diaspora, into which Farah was born; their surfaces bear significance in a tactile, portable manner.

The selection of paintings on view within the exhibition “Peradam” are sewn with roughly hand-size rectangles of cloth. Subsoil (all works 2022) is composed as a grid of patches stained with an earth-toned dye at its midpoint. The pigment was made with cloud-seeded rainwater and terra-cotta samples from a well in Western Sahara—a disputed territory in North Africa, suspected to be rich in natural resources, whose nomadic inhabitants have fought for independence from Morocco for decades. Farah mixed the samples with rust from the soil at Vinterviken, a park in Stockholm that was once the grounds of Alfred Nobel’s dynamite factory.

Clay, dynamite, rust, water, sand, linen, cotton—all of Farah’s materials carry complicated political histories. Farah sublimates these histories, in both the psychoanalytic sense of term—she converts violent attitudes toward land, natural resources, and people’s sovereignty into the more politically acceptable form of abstract painting—and the chemical one. While Farah is careful to leave the histories of her materials intact when she embeds them within the modernist grid, the latter is nevertheless distorted by the attempt to contain them.