Critics’ Picks

Monia Ben Hamouda, Aniconism as Figurative Urgency (Thalaathah), 2021, laser cut steel, spice powders, 70 × 36 1/2".

Monia Ben Hamouda, Aniconism as Figurative Urgency (Thalaathah), 2021, laser cut steel, spice powders, 70 × 36 1/2".


Monia Ben Hamouda

Ritterstrasse 2A
September 17–October 30, 2021

For “Night of Hinnā,” her first solo show at Chertlüdde’s Bungalow space, Italian Tunisian artist Monia Ben Hamouda draws on her hybrid background to gently subvert modes of representation in different cultural and religious contexts. Situated between figuration and abstraction but tinged with the postdigital melding of high-tech and high-touch, Ben Hamouda’s series “Aniconism as Figurative Urgency” (all works 2021) suspends three laser-cut steel sculptures from the ceiling so that they hover just above the ground. As the series’s title suggests, the works explore aniconism, which in Islamic visual culture translates to the rejection of figurative representations of living creatures or divine presence in favor of geometric forms and calligraphy. Stylistically, the sculptures recall Islamic script, and yet they remain illegible and even pseudo-animalistic, their brushstrokelike strips capped off with the semblance of paws. Their surfaces are intermittently coated in orange, black, and yellow pigments that resemble spray paint but are actually spices including turmeric, harissa, and garlic powder. The leftovers are splashed across the floor in what seems to have been an almost violent, spontaneous gesture reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism.

Ben Hamouda prioritizes the spatial plane between the steel and the floor, installing the exhibition’s eponymous series, “Night of Hinnā”—three small pairs of synthetic-leather gloves dyed with henna and marked with indecipherable designs—at the exact same height. According to the artist, this is a reference to the ritual of allowing freshly applied henna to dry, but within the larger installation, the emphasis on interstices nods to what Homi Bhabha has called “in-betweenness”: a Third Space of ambivalence in which cultural symbols, and in turn subjectivities, are not fixed, but rather actively negotiated.