Amal Kenawy’s†

It is difficult to separate impressions of Amal Kenawy’s work from her personal story—her gentle and fragile disposition reflecting the shroud of torment that infused her drawings, paintings, videos, and performances.

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Amal Kenawy, from a convolute of drawings, sketches, photographs, and notes, related to different projects by the artist, various dates, various sizes © Sharjah Art Foundation Collection and Amal Kenawy Estate c/o Darat al Funun; The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Amman

At the beginning of her career, Kenawy collaborated with her older brother, Abdel Ghany, to produce critically lauded sculptures, installations, and videos. However, her most accomplished and stellar works—The Room (2003), The Journey (2004), The Purple Artificial Forest (2005), You Will Be Killed (2006), and Silence of Sheep (2010)—she authored on her own. Kenawy desired to express and represent the interior, subconscious memory of the anguish of enduring violence; the indignity of submission; the monstrosity of indifference; the disembodiment and decomposition of a corroded political and social body. She projected her own body—dismembered limbs, bare organs—alongside carcasses of animals and an almost gothic repertoire of symbolic elements—a wedding dress, power lines, trees, rats, butterflies—archetypal allegories laced together in oneiric compositions that plumb the lived experience of a social order held together by repression, silence, and capitulation, on the brink of becoming undone. Kenawy’s practice has been associated with surrealist poetics, but she claimed a closer kinship to expressionism.

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Amal Kenawy, from a convolute of drawings, sketches, photographs, and notes, related to different projects by the artist, various dates, various sizes © Sharjah Art Foundation Collection and Amal Kenawy Estate c/o Darat al Funun; The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Amman

In addition to The Purple Artificial Forest and Silence of Sheep, selections from the artist’s sketchbooks are on display at the 12th Berlin Biennale. They invite a rare and affective foray into the artist’s sensate and visual interior universe and process, at times peppered with inscriptions that attest to the personal struggles she confronted as her marriage fell apart and as she battled cancer. In contrast to the searing emotionality of the artist’s intimate worlds, The Purple Artificial Forest and Silence of Sheep intend to produce discomfort and malaise. In the former, living or inanimate elements devour one another in a cycle of destruction and regeneration. The latter, Kenawy’s most prescient work, is a bold performance that roused furor during its filming on the streets of downtown Cairo and incarnates the humiliation of blind acquiescence to submission. It was filmed shortly before these very same streets witnessed the 2011 Tahrir Revolution.

Rasha Salti

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Amal Kenawy, from the series Empty Skies – Drawing Emotions, 2008, felt pen, ink on paper [dimensions unknown], courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation © Sharjah Art Foundation Collection and Amal Kenawy Estate c/o Darat al Funun; The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Amman

 

Exhibitions

 

Our World is Burning, 2020, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (FR)

In Rebellion. Female Narratives In The Arab World, 2017, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Valencia (ES)

You will be Killed, 2008, ifa-Galerie Berlin, Berlin (DE)

Empty skies-Wake up, 2008, La Galerie B.A.N.K, Paris (FR) (solo)

Sharjah Biennial 8: Still Life – Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change, 2007, Sharjah (AE)

1st Singapore Biennale: Belief, 2006, Singapore (SG)

Some Stories, 2005, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (AT)