Exhibition - Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals

Nilbar Güreş - The Grapes from the series trabZONE (2010)

Nilbar Güreş - The Grapes from the series trabZONE (2010)

Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals is an exhibition curated by Livia Alexander and Nat Muller which opened last month in Maraya Art Centre in Al Qasba, Sharjah and on till 12th May 2014. 

The exhibition looks at everyday rituals which "breathe identity, belonging, community, and a sense of order into our daily lives. We practice them in public open areas, as well as in private intimate spaces behind closed doors.". 

Artistic engagement with everyday rituals provides a fascinating looking glass onto contemporary society’s changing landscape, conferring a wealth of stories, bestowing individuals with the power to carve out not only autonomous spaces of agency and self expression, but also to forge new communities of belonging in a rapidly changing urban and globalized environment.

The MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) region in particular has undergone major transformations in the past decades, witnessing rapid urbanization, changing economies and new political alliances. The artists in Customs Made incorporate quotidian practices and everyday rituals in their work and blur the boundaries between art and life, between the prescribed and the personal. If rituals offer order and sequence, then what happens when artists re-shuffle and disrupt this ritual opens a space for them to explore how to weave their individuality, beliefs and practices into the fabric of the societies they inhabit.

In many of the works in this exhibition, ritual is intertwined with a broad spectrum of everyday practices, reinforcing the comfort of the familiar, from spiritual meditative routines, daily physical activities, superstitious repetitions, to mundane but necessary household chores.

Customs Made seeks to explore the interstitial spaces where past meets present, where the contemporary experience in its ever-expanding human mosaic finds its muse and inspiration, and oscillates between the repetitive structures of ritual and that of self-expression.

It's a fascinating exhibition and strongly urge my UAE readers to attend this. Below is the list of participating artists, and I've included extracts from the exhibition catalogue which describes each work. The catalogue is worth getting because it includes a conversation between the two curators, plus an essay by Stephanie Bailey, Managing Editor of Ibraaz. I do love exhibition catalogues with good content. 

Taysir Batniji


Taysir Batniji - Hanoun (1972-2009)

Hanoun by Taysir Batniji, a performance/installation that comprises of red pencil shavings scatted on the floor like flower petals. The title of the work means 'poppy' in Palestinian dialect--the flower that forms an integral part of the Palestinian landscape, both physically, literally and figuratively (often used as a symbol of freedom fighters).

The installation draws inspiration from Batniji's memories as a student at school, when he would escape the processes of reciting and copying out large swathes of text by insisting on sharpening his pencil obsessively which also constitutes the performance of producing this installation. 

The act of recreating this childhood act takes place in a space in which a photograph of Batniji's studio in Gaza is hung. This juxtaposition of the studio image and the installation marks the void--symbolised by this field of 'petals'.  Stephanie Bailey

Cevdet Erek



In Cevdet Erek's iteration of Week, a 2011 sound and LED installation that has been modified and reproduced for this exhibition. The artist takes one of the most basic things that shape our quotidian practices, the ritual of measurements, from the measurements of space (metric system) to time (calendar and clock) and musical tempo.

These are all measured as a steady number of beats per minute in an installation that consists of a totemic, Turbosound, a sound system column often used in clubs and for outdoor rock concerts. From these speakers, the beat of an acoustic frum is composed as an aural 'grid' - seven beats based on the division of the week into seven units, or days, are played in several different versions and combined in one loop. These drumbeats are followed by a male voice naming the days of the week from Monday to Sunday, cited in Arabic and taking into account the Islamic weekend. Stephanie Bailey


Shilpa Gupta


Shilpa Gupta - 100 Queues (2008)

Shilpa Gupta's 100 Queues looks at the density of Mumbai's population. 

The images, taken over a period of six months, present 98 instances of people waiting in queues across the city, from a bus stop to a railway ticket counter, to a ration shop. The images are presented as spools that can be turned, all connected in a row, as if a singular shot of a never-ending queue, and thus, a never-ending wait. Stephanie Bailey

I liked Livia Alexander's take on this, in her conversation with Nat Muller.

Capturing the vicious dead-end movement of individuals going about their prescribed daily need to wait in line again and again, Gupta's piece unfolds a particular social working class whose time is deemed both valueless and invisible.  

Nilbar Güreş 


Nilbar Güreş - Overhead from the series trabZone (2010)

In Nilbar Güreş' photography series trabZone, the artist brings us to the city of Trabzon, located in the region of the Black Sea, where the artist spent her summers as a child. Trabzon is a loaded site. It is known for its strong attachment to Turkish Muslim identity, yet was a centre of the Pontus during the Hellenic and Roman periods, with inhabitants known to have been the very first converts to Christianity.

In terms of its contemporary legacy, the story is far more changed. Trabzon is the hometown of young nationalist Ogun Samast - the teenage boy who assassinated the beloved Armenian journalis and editor Hrant Dink in 2007. Taking all this into account, Güreş produces images of Trabzon that reflect her intentions to produce open-ended narratives through an alteration of the constructions of her memories. Stephanie Bailey

In the conversation part of the catalogue, Nat Muller had this to say about this series which I also liked. 

Güreş' photo series trabZone shows a humourous critique of traditional gender politics and gendered labour in the rituals - or should I say the drudge - of housekeeping. The pictures at first glance show women shaking out a rug, picking grapes and making up a bed but a closer look reveals something quite uncanny. These women seem so consumed by their chores that their bed linens and rugs have gobbled them up. We never see their faces.

Mahmoud Obaidi


Mahmoud Obaidi - from the series Confusionism (2013)

In his series of works grouped together under the title, Confusionism, the sword reflects on the domestic space and rituals--and memories-- contained therein. In the series, the sharp points of swords have been softened and blunted with household extensions--the head of a bathroom pump, a toilet brush, a series of cooking utensils, including a whisk, a hairbrush or a broom.

Here, custom is transferred from the community and community ritual...to the domestic--the home as a space of quotidian ritual, or everyday practice, filled with objects custom-made for such a space. Stephanie Bailey

Obaidi's hybrid objects from the Confusionism series literally confuse genders: the heroic and combative symbolism of the masculine sword is brought back to the feminised space of the kitchen (whisks, cheese graters), the dressing table (hairbrushes) and the broom closet (brooms). Nat Muller

Mohamed Sharkawy


Mohamed Sharkawy - from the series El Kehrita (2013)

El Kehrita series named after a healing ritual that is meant to encourage fertility or do away with physical and mental illness. The ritual is still practiced in the village in Upper Egypt where Sharkawy grew up (one of the few remaining places to do so). He went to witness sessions before he underwent the ritual himself and produced work that commemorated a fading custom, rendered in characteristic minimalist style: block colours, simple shapes and forms, flat image planes.  

The simplicity of his imagery--invoking, as many have observed, the wall paintings of ancient Egypt--reflects on this healing ritual in (literal) graphic detail. Clear connections are made between the healer and the healed; a black background presents white heads, all connected by fine, white lines, recalling the fact that those souls who have undertaken the El Kehrita ritual are thought to become spiritually connected afterwards, thus moving the ritual from a personal event to a collective engagement. Stephanie Bailey

Rayyane Tabet

Rayyane Tabet - FIRE/CAST/DRAW (2013)

Rayyane Tabet's FIRE/CAST/DRAW consists of 5000 hand-cast lead pieces, each unique piece created by pouring the weight of a bullet in molten lead (a few grams) from a stovetop coffeepot to a water-filled coffee cup. The process invokes the diving ritual Tabet's grandmother performed on him as a youth, called molybdomancy, designed to reveal, in each lead lump, the face of whoever it was who cursed Tabet with the evil eye.

Tabet has described the project as a crossed meeting between 'a superstitious practice, a common material used in ballistics and a utilitarian object of trade', a combination of which produces a work of interwoven contexts, from personal and familial, to the geopolitical. Stephanie Bailey

Raed Yassin


Raed Yassin - With Imad Hamdi and his twin brother - from the series Dancing, Smoking, Kissing (2013)

In Raed Yassin's work, it is the past that has abandoned the artist. Having been rooted and uprooted multiple times over the course of his childhood in war-torn Beirut, Dancing, Smoking, Kissing is a tribute tp his memorie of a lost photographic recored of his family and childhood. What is left in the absence of photos and fragmented stories, emotions and memories associated with them, re-told to Yassin by family memorie.

The embroideries themselves are mechanically produced off computer files on mass produced fabris. And yet these ephemeral fabrics and stitched over imagery of family scenes invoke stories of home bygone - curtains hung, pillows on sofa, patterns of furniture. The familiar practice of leafing through family albums or more commonly today, flipping through digital files, is tethered by Yassinto a new format where widening circles of personal memories (or lack thereof), story telling, and the mass production of imagery all bleed from one to the next. Livia Alexander


Exhibition details
Date: On till 12th May 2014
Venue:  Maraya Art Centre, Al Qasba, Block (E), Third Floor, Sharjah (location map)
Free entry.