“Nour El Ain (نور العين‎)” Karma International / Zurich by

by March 8, 2021

Our heritages bind us, socially and emotionally, to our intimate desires. This engaging exhibition confronts themes of humanity’s thirst for connection through the lens of mostly young, mostly Swiss artists of Middle Eastern descent. Generously curated by Mohamed Almusibli across Karma International’s spacious double-decker “project” space, it’s a thrill of early and under shown exhibition opportunities, in which artists are represented by multiple works in interrelated portraits of their roots and a universal now of cravings rebuffed.

Azize Ferizi’s painting series “From me, to you” (2021) callowly depicts hands cupping gem-colored hearts in thick ceramic frames featuring the titular inscriptions. It’s juvenalia that makes an incision, pondering the replication of ardent sentiments.

Mina Squalli-Houssaïni’s Our Chimeras are meant to be (2020) is an affable circle of child-sized soft sculptures of insectoids dressed in Algerian celebratory costumes. Their title speaks to a yearning to unify the identities that separate, and their crafty Star Wars feel points as much to the cultural devouring of Hollywood as it does to the varied definitions and understandings of “alien.” It’s so good to see you, dear (2021), Squalli-Houssaïni’s further sculptural installation, is strewn across the floor, eliciting positive vibes to the late bloomer and the castoff. Fabricated from translucent plastic in the form of angular flower blossoms, working zippers between the petals allow repeat blooming in a nyctinastic ecstasy of youth and sexual awakening.

That thrill is continued in Khalid Al Gharaball’s Soft Image 1 (2020), the best collection of fuckable men seen offline in a year. It’s a plexi-encased vertical triptych of figurative vignettes and a tender treatise on the homoerotics of masculine positioning, specifically within Middle Eastern culture but echoing globally.

If Al Gharaballi depicts what one wants to see, Sarah Benslimane suggests that the hungers of the body are related to those of the soul. Two small pastel monochromes, With love from Sarah and Hope to hear from you soon (both 2020), mask their titles tonally within their smooth compositions. Her SUN (2020) is a large, inset quadrangle filled in a vibrant and seemingly endless pool of yellow. Day and night it shines through the storefront windows and out onto the street and the lived world. In a historically gray European winter, weather and otherwise, Benslimane proves the power of even the illusion of warmth against one’s skin.

The exhibition’s title, “Nour El Ain,” translates from Arabic to “the apple of my eye” or “the glow in my eyes,” and reading it in these dual translations is coherent. A sense of belonging with somebody, whether family, friend, or fuckbuddy, has never been so difficult or so important; now and always, everyone satiates passions as best they can.

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Mitchell Anderson