Turin

Adeela Suleman, Prying in her richly decorated room I, 2012, embroidery on canvas, iron, paint, lamps, 89 1/2 x 78 3/4 x 33 1/2".

Adeela Suleman, Prying in her richly decorated room I, 2012, embroidery on canvas, iron, paint, lamps, 89 1/2 x 78 3/4 x 33 1/2".

Adeela Suleman

PEOLA SIMONDI

Adeela Suleman, Prying in her richly decorated room I, 2012, embroidery on canvas, iron, paint, lamps, 89 1/2 x 78 3/4 x 33 1/2".

For her latest show, “I had no choice but to hear you,” Adeela Suleman exhibited six new works so richly decorated and visually sumptuous, they dazzled. In keeping with some of her earlier installations, these works incorporated steel elements, embossed and hammered like silver, affixed to iron supports. Three of the new sculptures, Red rain falling alone, Prying in her richly decorated room II, and Prying in her richly decorated room I (all works 2012), are variations on a theme. In these works, constructions resembling floor lamps are positioned a short distance from the wall. In the first case, the “lamp” is a solitary object, in the second it accompanies an embroidered fabric on the wall, while in the third it is doubled, framing, with perfect symmetry, a textile at the center.

Symmetry is an element in all the show’s works, so that their ambiguity is revealed only slowly, hidden beneath the splendor of the figurative interweavings of flowers, fruit, plants, and animals sculpted into the intricate surfaces. Suleman revives artisanal and iconographic traditions from the distant past, but industrial steel takes the place of precious metals, and ornamental motifs laden with symbolism are perpetuated through kitsch redundancies. However, such mutations of artisanal forms already constitute, for all intents and purposes, a tradition, fully present within modernity. The artist seems to be telling us that there is no boundary between the traditional and the modern, or that the passage from one to the other is subtle, a matter of slight deviations in a path of continuous comings and goings that force us to reassess meanings as well as aesthetic categories.

Suleman’s forms possess ulterior associations that become apparent only at a second glance. Reliefs and fabrics are attached to supports that look like hospital stretchers. The lamps are made with vertical poles that recall the IV stands one sees in hospitals. The lampshade consists of a pattern made up of birds that appear lifeless: The elegantly repetitive motif hides a tragic message. Suleman’s iconography is dense with symbolic animals, such as the snake and the parrot; folklore depicts the latter as an untrustworthy narrator. The sculptures Falling down and Falling down again are flanked by birds’ wings and allude to the figure of a fallen angel and to the sin of pride. Enter in heaven alive could be interpreted as a reference to a suicide bomber.

Suleman interrogates the violence that traverses society in Pakistan, where she was born and lives. But she also reveals the ambiguity that forms and images—and, metaphorically, messages and positions—can have. She seems, perhaps, to counteract oppression with a female voice. The title of two of the works, Prying in her richly decorated room, suggests a private and domestic space set aside for meditation, dedicated to an absent woman, while the title of the show picks up the thread once again: Who is speaking? To whom should we listen? What choices are there? Many of the works in the show evoke altars, not only to life and hope, but also to illusion, on which those who carry out atrocities in the name of fanaticism or political convenience sacrifice themselves and others.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.