Thoughts from Salma’s studio – finding the right words

Words and phrases I associate with my work –

Dense all over pattern, hard to pin-point single focus, dissolving form, informe, subjective embodied, synaesthesic,multi-sensory, conceptual, haptic ornamental space, touch, shallow space, bringing near, performance traces, movement, transformation, interiority, imaginal realm, memory body, entails close perception, repetitive manual laborious, hand, acute engagement with materials, interconnections, relationships, surface connectivity, networks, interface between imaginal realm and real world, physical, metaphysical, metamorphic, metaphorical, material consciousness, sinuous line, curvilinear, emotional states, fate, figure-ground confusion, ornamental mode that mediates between figurative and non-figurative, traces of hand, traces of body, emotion and thought, pattern and ornament are embodied music, embodied sound /feeling, metaphorical of complexity mystery and materiality, affective, suggests movement temperature music eroticism thought struggle body, dispersed body and dispersed mind, formlessness femininity insubordination, senses, ornament as medium for experiments in corporeal perception, arabesque and grotesque offer frisson and corporeal shock.

The words and phrases I have selected above seem to speak to me of the processes at work in my own art, the ways in which my paintings work visually on the viewer.

I have harvested words and phrases from reading Laura Marks more recently, and from reading widely on Non-Western art, ornament, haptic aesthetics and touch.

Ornamental Haptic Space

Marks writes about Islamic art and New Media art in Enfoldment and Infinity. So …. it may seem strange that a painter should find so much that is of interest and relevance. But in her book Laura takes us on a wider journey, exploring how ornament, haptic space (a kind of close shallow space that invites touching with the eyes and closeness compared with Western deep perspectival space) and abstract line found their way into Western art from Eastern and Islamic art.

She shows how ornamental forms became reduced and gendered in Western art, and how ornament, pattern and the abstract line (line that is free from having to represent figures or reality) have the power to convey complex inarticulable meanings – the spiritual, the musical, the erotic, or even thought itself. These forms promote subjective and contemplative seeing, bringing response to a work of art back to the viewer and their body.

Feminine Ways of Seeing

Marks talks about feminine ways of seeing, a kind of perception that involves relationships between things, networks, connections and patterns that work across space in a non- hierarchical way, and how so called women’s work often involves textiles, intense intricate laborious hand movements and close perception. All of which I feel are relevant to my ways of making work, seeing and thinking about the world.

Finding the right words

For many years now I have been trying to contextualise my own work. I was first told I needed to do this at Space Studios in London. This is not an easy thing to do if you haven’t come through the usual institutional channels. You cannot very easily grab yourself a label or heading, or pick a bunch of Western artists whom you think your work may relate to in some way. Many writers, art historians and theorists writing on non-Western art, craft, ornament, hybridity and intercultural exchange, like Laura Marks, have helped me to get closer to understanding how my work means, in what ways the visual techniques I use relate to other forms.

I have been painting and drawing since early childhood. I have lived in vastly contrasting cultural and visual climates. I found it much easier to relate to makers, craftspeople, artists and storytellers from around the world – Makers of Ornamental, sensual, storytelling, textural and intricate pieces that work in a metaphorical embodied way to convey emotional understanding of the world. A kind of understanding gained through the hand, through touch and gesture and via the powerful internal workings of the imaginal realm turned into art.

Read Laura Marks – Enfoldment and Infinity – An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art 


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