Chronicles of a Mothalovin’ Penslayer
Ummiyat is an autobiographical history that constructs feminist legacies of motherhood and language through modes of exposure, confession and exhibitionism. In my family, concealing trauma has been practised across the generations as a way to recuperate the dignity of individuals in my family in the wake of extremely traumatic political and personal events. By labouring to put on display, un-conceal and reveal the sites of trauma, this text attempts to come to terms with how we speak about the unspeakable and why it matters.
Ummiyat is a neologism that captures how Arabic semantically entangles motherhood, slavery, illiteracy and nation into one trilateral lexical root. Through thinking between those concepts, the essay unfolds the story of my grandmother, Izdihar, a bitter woman if ever there was one. Izdihar has a name that signifies the flowering, blossoming, blooming and opening up towards prosperity and progress. Nothing could have been further from the life of this miserable woman. By committing to divulge her tale, I broach the silence of what has happened in my family, and come to learn about the source of Izdihar’s consuming misery. The text plays with exposure and concealment as nuances of colour that enliven a portrait, and produce a text that thinks about desire by continuously deflecting it on the shores of its character’s life.
Soft Skin Shielding
Works by Berlin-based textile artist Sophie Utikal hover through the room: they can be sensed, caressed, set in motion, and hidden behind. Her monumental textile pieces shield a place where surviving does not require cutting away pieces of one’s identity–a soft, protected space where shields can be let down and the viewer can be vulnerable. Yet, in taking on themes of gendered and racialized marginalisation, the works themselves reveal the very scars they seek to soothe.
In her presentation, the artist will elaborate on aspects of her practice that connect to shielding, the skin as a shield, and the passage of traumas across generations as it relates to her oeuvre. Appealing to the decolonized gaze and non-rational forms of knowledge, she reproduces her own body through a series of large-scale textile self-portraits. In these works, Utikal reveals the tension between the epigenetic trauma of cultural and identity eradication and the individual process of healing through the surface of the skin. The depicted body, her body, acts to protect, and in doing so also bears the archive of traumatic experiences of displacement, genocide, and racialization handed down across generations. The works are depicted in deep relation with ecological devastation, as in Holding on (2021), or with non-human kinships, as in Healing Parts (2020), breaking and expanding dichotomous Western definitions of identity.