Critics’ Picks

View of “Basma Alsharif,” 2019.

Basma Alsharif

Museum of Contemporary Art
Toronto
February 14–April 14

Basma Alsharif’s exhibition in Toronto presents four installations with film and video that weave shades of imperialism into repetitive, quotidian activities. In Girls Only, 2014, a woman seated in an empty stadium performs a rhyming exercise. Her image is montaged with interludes of heroic, cinematic music, to the tune of celebratory nationalism. These themes extend to Trompe l’oeil, 2016, which is set up as a living room, complete with a carpet, divan, sofa chair, and flat-screen television that shows people performing everyday activities. Within the installation are two large-scale prints of actual living rooms, one of which includes three reproduced photographs of Arab slaves from the collection of T. E. Lawrence (of the 1916 Arab Revolt and the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia) tacked over the divan. This visual interruption in the domestic scene conveys how cyclical, violent histories are preserved in social memory, especially among the oppressed.

In The Story of Milk and Honey, 2011, the protagonist describes his desire to write a fictional love story set in the Middle East but “devoid of political context.” Toward this end, he compiles Arab love songs and reads an article about Italian cinema. The other photographs and texts in the exhibition can then be viewed as the results of his unwritten story. A Philistine, 2018, is a novella in five movements; twenty-five reading copies are available in the gallery alongside ten related prints. Presented in both English and a Palestinian dialect, the work shares the radical qualities of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s novel A Dream of Something (1962), which, like many of his texts, he wrote in Friulian to preserve the dialect during Mussolini’s Italy. Beginning with a failed romance between a furniture store clerk and an ineffective political agitator with literary aspirations in Cairo, Alsharif’s story keeps the political context intact.