The Birthmark Theory of Canadian-Libyan artist Arwa Abouon

Friday 23/10/2015
Arwa Abouon – I’m Sorry/I Forgive You, Diptych (2012)

London - Birthmark Theory, an ex­hibition at London Print Studio by Libyan-Cana­dian artist Arwa Abouon, playfully uses traditions and phrases of Islam to give a sub­tle message that it is a blessing to be from two cultures, not a curse.

Abouon deals with themes such as identity, duality and spirituality in her work and the importance of her family in her life is clear.

Her work, she says, “results from dynamic interactions between per­sonal reflections on human nature, to meet and see the world as it is, and the multiple perspectives of my own gaze”. Her work is usually photographic but she also uses vid­eo or design.

“The themes addressed in my works stem directly from my life experience as a female artist living and working between cultures,” Abouon said in a statement posted by the studio, “and yet the aim is to show how a single person’s ‘double vision’ can produce images that possess much wider social effects by collapsing racial, cultural and religious borders. In other words, the images, which are seemingly autobiographical in nature, move beyond mere autobiography.”

Birthmark Theory, Abouon’s first solo exhibition in Britain, fea­tures the Mirror Mirror/Allah Allah diptych, in which Abouon raises religious and gender issues by us­ing the Muslim veil as a symbol to question inner versus outer spir­ituality and in which she concludes that the most important thing is to see herself through God, as one of his human creations.

In the I’m Sorry/I Forgive You diptych, Abouon uses an Islamic geometric design pattern as a back­ground to the gentle act of contact between her parents, set in the pri­vate space of worship at home. The piece is to point out both the acts of love and compassion and want­ing to elevate them as visual monu­ments in themselves.

“My work results from dynamic interactions between personal re­flections on human nature, to meet and see the world as it is and the multiple perspectives of my own gaze. My works are usually photo­graphic but sometimes integrate video, design or additional installa­tions,” she said.

Also on display is the Abouon Family picture, in which each member is positioned to denote his or her role in the nuclear unit. While the father stands tall pro­tecting the siblings, it is the mother who gazes straight into the camera. Holding her prayer beads, she rep­resents a “pillar of faith” that for Abouon stands as a reference to the Quranic verse that says “paradise lays beneath the mother’s feet”.

Born in Tripoli, Libya, in 1982, Abouon belongs to the Amazigh ethnic group indigenous to North Africa and studied design art at Concordia University in Montreal, where she lives and works.

Abouon said she seeks to ask questions through her images and provoke discussion about religion and identity.

“I question my own place within a so-called Western culture on the one hand and an upbringing in a Muslim household on the other,” she posted on her website.

On the Birthmark Theory web­site, Abouon was quoted as saying: “My ultimate aim is to sculpt a finer appreciation of the Islamic culture by shifting the focus from political issues to a poetic celebration of the faith’s foundations. I hope my work is always visually intricate in the subtleties within its voice.”

The exhibition is part of the Nour Festival of Art, which runs in Lon­don until November 8th, an annual showcase of Middle Eastern and North African arts featuring music, film, food, exhibitions, talks and dance.