Mixed Media Installation
Masricani is an installation addressing the middle ground, or “inbetween” of forming an identity in a transcultural situation between my Egyptian heritage and an American up bringing. The work uses themes of gender and identity politics as well as cultural protocols that are custom to individual cultures, yet trying to balance them into one person standing in the limbo between cultures. These issues are made present through the arrangement of fabrics, as a strong tie to the importance of textiles and patters in Egypt and Islamic practices and in the metaphorical connotation of women’s relationship to stone. I use stone in relation to women in the sense that stone is pinnacle to the foundation of society, versatile, strong yet taken advantage of. As well as the space itself, and the conditions and accommodations that gendered spaces make for different individuals.
Clashing patters and forms create a terrain of textiles in an environment of dynamics between surfaces and arrangement. The figures grouped on the floor in a flurry of color and pattern do not engage with the viewer at all, it is not their job to help the viewer understand the specifics of what they are doing. The figures’ delicate and lightweight outer appearance create the feeling of life and presence. Their physical dimension create tension with the flat upholstery patterns on which they are seated upon, and the difference within the types of fabrics separate them in context of material and purpose, yet the commonality between them is the effect of an ornamented and decorative design. Pattern and placement conflict yet collaborate in creating a visual busyness and movement between the threads in an open space. Material and purpose as in what the fabrics composure and design can be recognize by their associated use; the floor patterns suggesting an upholstered or tiled element contrast to the garment fabric that composes the figures. Their placement on the floor in an activity or social gathering further concludes a separation: an inaccessibility built of loud drapery over still formations.
All of this is backed by the mesh of two drastically different types of fabrics. The utilitarian roughness of burlap, raised and secured to the wall, painted with house paint, sewn to the soft, patterned sheet, connects both fabrics to the stitched floor patterns in a slight plane removed from the wall, creating its own enclosure. This enclosure is separated by aesthetic difference, as well as a physical partition between the viewer and the figures. The walls leading to the seated figures are grey and rough in texture with a cement burlap mix painted onto sheets of burlap and covering many of the walls in the space; exhibiting a difference in personalities of the figures and walls in the entrance of the space. This roughness through the fabric cement does not only create an aesthetic atmosphere, but also serves as a body in of itself. Previous works have utilized the cement/ fabric mixture as a connection for my perception of women and our relation to stone: strong, stoic, versatile, pinnacle foundations of society, yet taken for granted and overlooked. Through the work of Masricani a new revelation of meaning in the cement fabric mixture surfaced in the context of space. Either entrance of the gallery is primed with the cement painted onto the burlap, alluding to the idea of bringing the exterior of the gallery inwards to create an extended public space.
My installation is a reconciliation and contextualization of the moment I entered this middle ground. As a teenager, I fell in love with Egypt during a prolonged trip, feeling more at home there than in Indiana where I was born and raised. The motivation and purpose to return and assume the identity of my heritage was the lifestyle that sparked an attraction. I had studied Arabic, cultural events and history of the region post-pharaonic era and was identifying myself as an Egyptian who happened to live in America, as did my family and community throughout Egypt and Sayeed. It was upon entering the home of a women soon to be married, hosting a bridal shower that sparked the most recent identity crisis. Entering off the dusty, narrow streets with the sunbaked homes towering above me when I entered a commotion of color, sound and movement. All women, focused on the task of preparing pastries for the wedding. Unlike other welcomes, I had only received a few greetings and waves before they went back to work. The excitement of teenage girls took my arms, pulling me in every direction to meet a parent or sister which seemed to only last a few minutes at a time. I was escorted upstairs by my many new enthusiastic friends who wanted to sing karaoke, which is apparently common at bridal showers globally. However, our excitement ended when I was asked to sing along to a song by an artist I didn’t recognize. It was that moment when a native Sayeede girl and I had the same understanding of the issue at hand: I was not one of them.
In context of the cultural decorum of the Islamic world, the public space is male dominated, and women are pressured to accommodate for the men by drawing less attention to themselves; more specifically their bodies. Lisa Golombek’s The Draped Universe of Islam reflects on the historic importance and versatility of textiles in the Islamic world.
“Another category of costume tied to specific functions consisted of garments that are to be worn only out-of-doors… Apart from these functional considerations were the many facets of social behavior in which textiles played an important role. Textiles could reflect social values and codes of behavior, but they might also be actual tools of the social system. “ -Lisa Golombek (The Draped Universe of Islam PG 27-28)
In southern Egypt, it is not uncommon for a female farmer or merchant to adorn herself with her gold and silver jewelry as she works, selling her products in the dusty, sun baked settings of the market place – essentially, to wear her wealth. Whereas the private fabrics of color and pattern may be covered by a practical outer garment to protect against the elements and the wears of labor, beneath could be the textile ornaments with a wealth of color. For those who practice the Islamic code of modesty through Hijab, in the privacy of a home or an appropriate indoor place the monochromatic or earthy public garment is shed and the private garments are revealed. A barrier between the public space and the private realm must be enacted for the conditions of physical modesty. This barrier serves as more than a culturally appropriate practice as it acts as a barrier between realms of comprehension. Perpetuating a physical partition between ourselves and the figures, the illusion of peeking into a scene through a screen, suggests a feeling of taboo or being an outsider -- an Other.
A commotion between the people, their task, their garments and the designs of the interior architecture create a visually confusing and overwhelming scene. These figures, are the visual conjectures of a Masricani – a hodgepodge of fabric, somewhat crassly thrown together, yet carefully placed in a kaleidoscopic puzzle of color and pattern over three-dimensional forms.