Until 29th March
A new installation artwork at the Collective Gallery, from Glasgow-based artist Sulaïman Majali, places sculpture and a structured soundwork around a space also inhabited by its audience. Here, the artist draws on historical narratives of events around the City Observatory, Calton Hill, to explore how a culture creates diasporic states. Majali is short-listed for the Margaret Tait award.
The exhibition title saracen go home refers to Islamophobic graffiti spray-painted on the outer wall of a Cumbernauld mosque in 2016. The words appeared alongside Latin phrase “Deus Vult” (“God wills it”). Both phrases allude to words used by soldiers in the Crusades and medieval Christian writers referring to Arab Muslims. Such terms have recently become popular with far-right groups inspired by video game Crusader Kings.
However, the name Saracen has been in use for centuries along with slight shifts in connotation but always referring to the negative. The relationship between the diasporic and the indigenous assumes a fixed narrative for some. Complicating elements, such as the fact that crusaders were often brutal and destructive, are omitted from modern right-wing narratives. Such narratives are typically wrapped up in ‘them’ and ‘us’ fixed assumptions rather than exploring the connections between cultures and nations. saracen go home also draws on the work of academic Gayatri Gopinath, who suggests that a diasporic position offers a way of seeing connecting stories that have been obscured in conventional histories.
Through sculpture and sound, you enter a scene, a hybrid of waiting room and stage performance set-up with (mic-less) microphone stand and audio speaker within the Hillside gallery. Weaving around and through the space, you somehow feel a part of the audience and part of the set at the same time. Sculptured objects somehow shift between a feeling of being both discarded and strategically-placed. Amidst the monochromatic tones are touches of bright, synthetic colour.
Here, you can also bring your own connections and disconnections to the scene and question your own narratives around the topic. Look out for a hidden object near the gallery window which can only be seen from the outside looking in. Could this be a metaphor for things known and unknown, seen and unseen, understood and misunderstood. A displacement between those looking out from inside and those looking in from outside yet still the same object?
The diasporic position offers a way of seeing connections and stories that have been obscured in conventional histories of displacement. Images collated in A4 sized pamphlets printed on newsprint paper help to blur the fixed ideas that a culture creates to show diaspora and indigenous as opposites. Majali presents connections and disconnections in these visual prompts and we can explore how cultural ideas shift and move forward through collaboration, discovery and enlightenment.
Majali uses the idea of ‘folding and creasing’ source material, field recordings, radio and broadcast materials, collaging collected digital sounds and voice. The soundtrack includes traditional music, a plane flying overhead, the clearing of rubble and broken glass, feet on gravel, whispered words and singing birds. Some of the seemingly found objects are manufactured – digitally printed, artificial lemon peel. Some of the sound works are found objects that the artist has collated. We also find a creased peacock feather, folded lemon peel and bright red insulating tape with a wrinkle. Majali’s connection of both the visual and verbal also highlights how we, often unconsciously, accept concepts that fit with what we believe to be fixed ideas of nation, identity and culture.
saracen go home is part of Satellites Programme, Collective’s development programme for emergent and early-career artists and producers based in Scotland.
City Observatory, 38 Calton Hill
Edinburgh EH7 5AA
Thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.