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Monia Ben Hamouda. The Destruction of the Idols of Ka'ba

Within the programming of

Reclaiming Resilience
30 Mar - 28 May 2023
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Monia Ben Hamouda is the second guest artist featured in Reivindicar la resiliencia / Reclaiming the Resilience, the annual exhibition programme in Room A, curated in 2023 by Pakui Hardware (Neringa Černiauskaitė & Ugnius Gelguda), which explores different aspects of resilience: bodies, communities and cultures, and matter.

A new series of sculptures, created specially for this installation, point to a particular moment in Islamic history, when the ban on figuration gave rise to aniconism. Geometric shapes and masterful calligraphy took the place of figurative representations of living beings or divine presence. The Destruction of the Idols of Ka'ba is the most widely known event of aniconism in which prophet Muhammad with an army marched on Mecca and smashed and demolished the pagan idols at the Kaaba. The destruction scene can be found in a number of illustrations that were painted and circulated the Middle East and North Africa around AH 970 (1550 CE). In one of them, a demon is seen escaping from a shattered sculpture. The fragmented bodies of the smashed sculptures, the demons and the verging point between abstract symbols and figuration are brought together by Monia Ben Hamouda into a striking scene. The remains of the former figurative ‘idols’ are sculpted by burned wood and ceramic, while the steel surfaces of laser-cut demonic figures, suspended from the ceiling, are coated in pigments that derive from natural spices. In the steel figures, reminiscent of skillful brushstrokes, wrestle figuration and abstract ornamentry: a hand, a paw, a head emerge and are swallowed back into the dance of lines.

The Destruction of the Idols of Ka'ba delves into the (im)possibility of representation through the history of Islamic artist resistant to the prohibition of figuration, and through the hybrid heritage of Monia Ben Hamouda herself.

Born into a Muslim community as the daughter of an Islamic calligrapher, the artist navigates and confronts her generational heritage through what she calls a shamanic process. By coating the surfaces of her sculptures and the space around them with fragrant spices, such as turmeric, chili pepper, cinnamon and cumin, or by burning wood pieces the artist evokes ritualistic and medicinal traditions of her cultural heritage, while at the same time emphasizing the almost possessive power of the ancestors. The aromatic scents, the light, scorched wood and calligraphic sculptures create a portal for the viewer to enter this terrain in which cultural history meets the turbulent present. The current waves of violence towards public monuments across the world – the smashing, the burning, the spitting – dismantle, even if symbolically, the long history of oppression. The fragmented wood sculptures in Monia’s installation are a hard evidence of the history of human drive for destruction. Only now it is the His-story itself that calls to be destroyed.

Monia Ben Hamoud (b. 1991, Milan) lives and works between al-Qayrawan, Tunisia, and the city of her birth. She graduated with a BA in Fine Arts from the Brera Academy, Milan. She held a visiting professorship at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Dresden and on the master’s degree in curating at the Istituto Marangoni in Florence, and was member of the jury at the Filmmaker Festival, Milan. She has exhibited her work at venues like ChertLüdde (Berlin), Ashes/Ashes (New York), ar/ge kunst Kunstverein (Bolzano), Jevouspropose (Zurich), Museo Salvatore Ferragamo (Florence), Et.Al (San Francisco), Ada (Rome), Galerie Valeria Cetraro (Paris), Universitätssammlungen Kunst (Dresden), Alios 16ème Biennale d'Art Contemporain (La Teste-de-Bûch), and Marsèlleria Permanent Exhibition (Milan). Awards and distinctions for her work include a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (winner), Sixth Club Gamec Prize (finalist), TSI Art Award x Artissima (winner), Art Business Accelerator grant from Artwork Archive and Redline Contemporary Art Center (winner), and the DUCATO Contemporary Art Prize (winner of the special prize).

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Monia Ben Hamouda. The Destruction of the Idols of Ka'ba

30 Mar 10 - 10 h