Everything Must Go by Sophia Al-Maria, 2017. Courtesy of The Third Line
Qatari-American artist and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria has cut the ribbon on her first solo exhibit in the UAE, “Everything Must Go,” which will be running from February 22 to April 1, 2017 at the The Third Line. With works previously showcased across the world––at the Architectural Association in London, Gwangju Biennale, and the New Museum in NYC––Al-Maria’s latest showcase is a development from “Black Friday,” her 2016 exhibit at The Whitney Museum of American Art; which made her the first Arab woman to have a solo show there.
“The thing about ‘Black Friday’ was that it had to transport the viewer,” Sophia Al-Maria tells Vogue Arabia. “The subject matter was about transportation; the shopping mall is essentially a drug that we walk into.” “Everything Must Go” expands on this theme––with acute digital graphics and freshly-applied sensitivity, it explores the act of consumerism with a reflective look at the chaos of modernity.
Vogue Arabia’s contributing editor Sueraya Shaheen speaks to Al-Maria on the eve of her show opening.
You explore the shopping mall as a destination. That’s certainly an environment.
It’s the future. It’s time travel that you went through, and it’s the end of the world. It’s even after the end of the world, when there’s a few ghosts of people left, people that you are not able to identify with blurred faces. The work shows the shopping mall as the haunted house. It’s frightening but it also has that deliciously scary feeling to it. The first half of the video represents the underworld and the second half represents heaven. You’ve been sent through the rings of hell to end up in heaven, where you find shiny marble and blue skies, little fluffy clouds. This experience takes place completely in a shopping mall.
All over the planet, people’s experiences are similar; feelings of disorientation, increased sensitivity to advertising. These things are specifically scripted into that environment to make you feel a certain way and make you behave a certain way––to make you buy, essentially. So, the experience of going into that exhibition was also to engineer an experience where you are faced with familiar imagery that’s slightly twisted, and makes you uncomfortable. And in doing that, perhaps the next time [that person] walks into a shopping mall, [they will] recall that feeling.
Despite my research into consumerism, I find I am still easily seduced when I enter a shopping mall. It’s something that is bred in us, dangerously close to the bone. Once you have a certain amount of expendable cash, the seduction becomes all the more real. It’s difficult when you start to notice this danger is there; you suddenly realize its existence but you still crave its warmth.
How is your work at The Third Line gallery another reincarnation of Black Friday?
In a way, the Whitney felt like a disaster had just happened, a stampede. The Dubai version is as if the grocery store has just been looted, as you would see in a zombie movie. The place is full of local candy and chips reminiscent of my childhood here. In and amongst all that are “The Litany” videos, of various mobile phones. The shopping carts are a different and new way of displaying “The Litany,” which was shown in a different context at the Whitney, with sand and glass.
There’s a lot to grab your attention at the new exhibit, from the soundtrack in the background to the bright colors and the words on the video stills.
Our senses have been somewhat dulled through evolution. Where [thousands] of years ago a rock drawing was enough, you now have to do something very intense to grab people’s attention. Everybody makes images, but images are not enough anymore.
In my works, I try to jar people’s senses. The sounds are meant to frighten.
Sophia Al-Maria’s new exhibition “Everything Must Go” runs from February 22 to April 1 2017 at The Third Line Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai.