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mariam shambayati: August 2008



First there was the idea that figurative painting would no longer constitute a field worth researching. That ready made images by virtue of their inherent link to the zeitgeist would far more accurately convey a sense of time and place; our changed relationship with time is a byproduct of the past century.
But this slow and irreversible dissolution of the represented image brought about a new sensitivity towards image as document. As photography disrupted our established criteria of perception it appeared to some that this was no just about technique but also newly found moments.
As some ventured towards abstract expressionism or minimal art, others never quite gave up and began integrating this conflict between the classical time-line (academia) and photography not just as a tool of representation (and interpretation) but also one of collapsed traditional space. Francis Bacon of course was at the forefront of this march.
Like Bacon, most of Mariam Shambayati’s paintings rest on already existing imagery, drawings, photographs of family and friends or found images. These may be cropped, framed or sequenced. Yet they appear to be more a pretext than a representational goal, investigating spatial conditions of a given situation through form or color. As they are transformed into absolute pictorial elements, the canvases do not necessarily suggest a narrative, but instead discuss the nature of composition, the practice and craft of painting.
Shambayati’s work, in it’s insistence to deal with the human figure has embarked on a journey not dissimilar to the Irish master. The daily self-portraits (apart from “keeping the shrinks at bay”…) come as ammunition to help define the ever-changing nature of representation. Scenes are captured and when transferred on the canvas loose their initial figurative purpose in order to help define a specific comment on how paint is applied, colors chosen, light distributed and space created.
Meanings are never specific nor static, thus reaching for a place beyond representation. However, the personal memories collected in the images and autobiographical starting point dissolve during the act of painting producing an original art work.
This, as some know, comes as an absolute struggle. It is a solitary act requiring not only skill and patience but a capacity to project outside of oneself. With slowly developing her body of work, Mariam Shambayati is helping further define figurative painting at a given point in time.
june 2008