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Iman Issa’s Heritage Studies

Iman Issa’s Heritage Studies (2015–ongoing) combines a Brancusi like modernism with details from architectural remains, which provides a meditation on heritage broadly. On view at the Hamburger Bahnhof and shortlisted for the Preis der Nationalgalerie, 2017, Issa’s objects act as hybrid figures that in turn question what types of forms we inherit today from the past. In Issa’s presentation, her Minimalistic objects lie on the floor – a white cylinder form meets its turquoise counterpart. Next to it lies the pronged axels of a halved star. On the wall are fragments of text arranged in a time-line. As one approaches the words, one finds that the text narrates archeological details. For instance, “Astrolabe for Studying the Movement of Heavenly Bodies, From Zubayr, Iraq A.D. 984.” Though this text does not provide a direct illustration or didactic descriptions of the sculptural forms – evidencing an artistic interpretation – the dissonance between what is written and what is enacted in space alludes to a lost civilization, which can only be perceived through ruins.

Though Issa’s work immediately resurrects the aesthetics of Judd or, even earlier, Brancusi because of her alteration of the white pedestal, it also relates to Hassan Sharif’s work, whose sculptures were included in But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008 reviewed by Selections for its #41 print issue. However, Sharif was invested in going out in the city, seeing the traces of the Emirates’ transition to capitalism that was evidenced in the literal material waste of brands such as coca cola. Contrasting this notion of the “ready-made”, Issa’s sculptures instead do not recycle objects from today’s streets but recycle forms from history that are then translated into the language of sculpture. And yet, what the installation lacks is what Sharif’s work somehow performs: the critique of our present materialist culture, the capitalist outside, and the figure of the proletariat.

The beauty of Issa’s sculptures are undeniable and her material sensibilities are nothing but acute. However, as theorized by Benjamin in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940), ruins often pile up on top of one another – spanning vertically rather than organizing themselves into linear timelines. As a foil to Issa’s methodology, Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz’s Backstroke Of The West retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago includes his seminal May the Arrogant Not Prevail (2010), consisting of found packaging shaped in the form of the Ishtar Gate. Rakowitz use of this literal garbage to reconstruct, and thus parody archeology, can be considered a melodious play between history and form.

Rakowitz’s recreation of the objects through candy wrappers, like with Sharif, complicates the hybrid status of archeological remnants that through time have been victims of looting, colonialism, and war. Though the social dimensions lie at the periphery for Issa, the viewer senses their omission and thus wonders how low-culture could transform the perceptively minimalistic space.


Featured Image: Installation view, Iman Issa: Heritage Studies, Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2015. Photo: STUDIO LHOOQ. Courtesy of the artist and Rodeo, London.

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Vanessa Gravenor is a writer and artist based in Berlin. She has written for N.Paradoxa, ArtSlant, Sleek Magazine, EXPO (Chicago), and Bad at Sports. She was the assistant editor for the book the Proxy and Its Politics: On Power and Subversion, Archive books, 2017. When she’s not writing she is making videos on the entanglement of cybernetics and trauma. Her bot form can be found on twitter as @femmepicaro

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