Material melancholy in defiance of high taste
with Nabeeha Mohamed
Multidisciplinary, Nabeeha Mohamed’s practice documents the ways she wrestles with identity and class in contemporary South Africa as a woman of colour assimilated into white society. Using humour and exaggeration, her practice highlights the absurd value placed in fleeting objects. In this week’s Re:View we consider the ways in which her critique has developed in her exhibition at WHATIFTHEWORLD, titled Vanitas Woe.
In her 1999 text, All About Love: New Visions, theorist, educator and social critic bell hooks presents the emergence of hyper-independence and hyper-consumption as products of our failure to actualise democracy. A practice where the constitution is ideally based on the fundamental rights, sensibilities and values of the entire collective, the current context’s high levels of inequality, poverty and violence are a far cry from this ideal. To survive, hope is relinquished. “Isolation and loneliness are central causes of depression and despair. Yet they are the outcome of life in a culture where things matter more than people… While emotional needs are difficult, and often impossible to satisfy, material desires are easier to fulfill.”
Yoked with a similar assertion, Nabeeha Mohamed’s Vanitas Woe critiques excess by presenting luxurious items as absurd, futile and porous properties in contexts that value connection and social justice.
Strange, hyperbolic, dimensional, emotive, excessive, satirical, defiant, urgent, glossy and materialistic, Mohamed’s style mirrors the themes her practice addresses.
A contemporary take on the 1970s bad painting movement, Mohamed describes her style as a defiance of what is considered high taste or worthy of the title of beauty. “It’s artists who are making work beyond the academic profile by embracing chaos without justifying it,” explains Mohamed.”
Deliberately making imagery from her memory of the objects she depicts, Mohamed’s process presents the impermanence of the object’s value. “I have a friend who once said my work feels like a child who is furiously trying to get a message across. I liked that idea of trying to make this exact without a reference in front of me,” laughs Mohamed. “As much as I try to restrain myself, like a child, I can’t seem to.”
Beyond the confines of her practice, Mohamed’s work bleeds into the artist’s personal capacity to the point where it’s impossible not to wonder whether the work offers her a semblance of resolve. She sighs. “I don’t think there’s any resolve. But I also resolved myself to the fact that this is going to be a lifelong unpacking. It’s okay that I might not be able to neatly package the message in the end.” A stance she applies in the relationship she has with painting, Mohamed then goes on to say “I think what is really brilliam about painting as a medium is that it shows me how little I know about its extent. It continues to humble me and I think that’s what keeps me open .”
As much an opportunity to criticise displays of consumption, the practice also gives the artist an opportunity to address elitism, considering her domestic proximity to luxury. “I mean my style is definitely natural to me but I do think there’s an interesting juxtaposition. My style gives these high end handcrafted objects an abrasiveness that invites people to join me in disengaging from the prettiness of the original objects.
A balancing act, Vanitas Woe does not renounce the pleasures of possessing earthly comforts. Instead the show does well to demonstrate the tense relationship between returning and reclaiming. between privilege and dispossession. Between excess and exploitation