Text by Deborah Schultz
The title of the current exhibition of photographs by Raeda Saadeh at Rose Issa Projects, London, is well-chosen as True Tales, Fairy Tales brings together and highlights key aspects of the artist’s work. While a number of the images refer to fairy tales, these are not happy ending fantasies, but are deeply rooted in unresolved contemporary issues. Although this exhibition features only photographs, Saadeh is also a performance and installation artist. As is often noted, her background plays a crucial role in her work. A Muslim Palestinian, she studied at an Israeli University in Hebrew, lives in Jerusalem and has an Israeli passport. With such a complex status, Saadeh personifies the absurdity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although (in theory) she can travel to the west, she is unable to go to Arab countries. The early photograph Crossroads (2003) provides a visual form for the imposition of the political conflict on the individual. Standing in a doorway with a suitcase ready to go, one foot is set in a cube of concrete making travel impossible. Saadeh is the model here, as in all her works. The authenticity of the image is crucial and she actually cast her foot in concrete. She looks out of the image, with an expression on her face of calm determination mixed with anger and patience.
The literalness of this image segues into more nuanced fictions as the artist explores political and gender concerns via complex narratives. Saadeh is clearly the model in each image in the Fairy Tales series. Although she has been described as the Cindy Sherman of the Middle East there are clear differences in their methods. Sherman, in a sense, is the better actress as, with the use of prosthetics and make up she takes on each character and becomes unrecognisable. Sherman’s images are also more credible, whether as film stills or family portraits, with the characters convincing fitting their surroundings. Saadeh, meanwhile, has clearly dressed up for each part. By drawing attention to the artifice of the image, she is more concerned with highlighting disjuncture, discord and displacement and so structures her images accordingly. Her fairy tale characters do not quite fit the harsh reality of the background scenes. Looking out of each image away from the viewer with a mixture of strength and vulnerability, she is alert to danger, always on the watch for whoever may be watching her. Cinderella (2010), for example, in an old-fashioned pink ball gown, looks over her shoulder in fear that she has been followed. She seems to have fallen on the steps of an old town which has become a popular tourist area with soft lighting and museum signs on the walls. The back story of each photograph is hinted at; this particular image was taken at 4am in Jaffa, in streets formerly inhabited by wealthy Palestinian families, who hurriedly left the city in the middle of the night. This Cinderella is not concerned with the transformation of her clothes and carriage, but with the night time curfew. Meanwhile Rapunzel (2010) sits in the entrance to a ruined old house with a new Israeli settlement in the background, while Penelope (2010) knits from a ridiculously large ball of wool in the ruins of more recent properties, the metal spokes sticking out of the rubble visually analogous to her woollen thread. Little Red Riding Hood (2010) is slightly different from the other images in the series. The amusing discrepancies between Saadeh, her little girl outfit and plastic basket full of bread are striking. She is smaller here, lost amongst the forest of skyscrapers of the Tel Aviv financial district. Her smile appears innocent but knowing, seemingly aware of how bizarre she looks while, at the same time, acting her part, cautiously crossing a danger zone to take food to her family. Full of borders and divisions, the spaces of these images correspond to those in contemporary life most notably in the Middle East, but relevant to other regions too.
Some images from Saadeh’s Great Masters series are also on display, including that in which she dresses up as Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, calmly pouring milk but in the setting of a ruined home. Thus, through old master paintings and fairy tales she uses fictions to explore the reality of women living under occupation and the ways in which they need to overcome endless challenges and obstacles, regarding both external repression and cultural stereotyping. It is the spirit of the works and of the artist’s enchanting personality that makes them most effective as Saadeh, impressively, remains calm throughout, employing absurdity in the face of absurdity.
Raeda Saadeh: True Tales, Fairy Tales, 08/03/2012 – 07/04/2012, Rose Issa Projects, 269 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NA. www.roseissa.com
Aesthetica in Print
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Posted on 15 March 2012