In the human face, Emirati artist Nujoom Alghanem has found her latest fascination. She has painted hundreds of them. These countenances have been put together in the exhibition Malamih – Faces, Phantoms, Expressions, on view at Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah until the end of August.
Over the past two years, Alghanem has turned her attention to rendering people’s faces with diverse materials and wearing varied expressions, continuing an interest that first began in 2016. By her own estimate, she says the number of works featured in the show reaches nearly 2,000.
Her exhibition centres on her perception of human expression, creating visages that are thoughtful, intense and, at times, eerie or comical. Alghanem considers it a natural progression from her interest in the individual and personal narrative, which she has explored in her previous work, including her film installation Passage, shown at the UAE Pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2019.
In Passage, the artist blends two genres of storytelling, the oral tradition of Arabic poetry and filmmaking, playing out two non-linear narratives across two screens. The first tells the story of Alghanem and a Syrian woman named Amal creating a film for the pavilion, while the other focuses on a displaced woman named Falak.
Alghanem’s paintings and drawings hone in on personhood, removing narrative and focusing instead on exploring the subject’s psychology. The exhibition begins on the third floor of the centre, where an arrangement of canvases, ranging in size and shape, hang Petersburg-style and give visitors a sense of being watched by the assembly of faces painted on them.
The second floor features the artist’s more experimental works as she uses new materials burlap and jute. There is also an array of chopping boards with faces painted on them, recalling the way meat is hung in butcher shops and producing a more sinister and haunting atmosphere to the show.
In addition, two dark rooms show faces created with fluorescent light and a series of those are digitally animated, as a commentary on the selfie age.
Towards the end of the gallery are ceramic, concrete and resin-based works, as well as an Artist’s Room that has been constantly shifting over the past few months as Alghanem has painted on the walls and added objects to transform the space.
Before exiting the show, visitors are asked to share their impressions by creating their own works, drawing faces on paper.
Malamih – Faces, Phantoms, Expressions is on view until Tuesday, August 31, at Maraya Art Centre, Sharjah. More information is available at maraya.ae