Solo Exhibition by Nadia Faragaab
December 6-23, 2012
By Chiara Scafidi
Nadia Faragaab’s exhibition ‘The G with the J Sound’ revolves around a discussion of identity; its suppression, fluidity and idiosyncrasies. Faragaab’s aim is to assert a strong sense of self amongst her fellows in the Somali community, while also giving Somali identity and concerns a voice within mainstream Australian culture.
Faragaab’s only video work in the exhibition, Fiish, is, in my opinion, one of her strongest, visually and ideologically. The video describes various people, in slow motion black and white washing their faces, the shot is cropped closely as though you, the viewer, are the mirror into which they are looking as they pinch the bridge of their nose and wipe away the water. The audio piece, Aruuris is played over the top, in variously English and Somali; people speak, are asked questions, laugh, tell stories, and at one point, someone even answers a phone. Aruuris celebrates language and culture, the tangible joy Faragaab takes in hearing Somali being spoken comes through in her earnest and playful dialogue with members of the Somali community, the singing of poetry and the telling of stories. The video Fiish aestheticises the everyday habits of ritual, possibly her most visually rich piece, not just because of the dynamism that video creates, but also because of the way it has been cut together. There is a rhythm that draws you in and creates an almost meditative consideration, one that perhaps reflects the repetitious act of ritual cleansing that each subject puts themselves through. We may often only give artworks a cursory glance, a good artwork makes you stop, think and experience something, and this is what Fiish achieves.
Faragaab is not afraid to look at the negative impacts of cultural interaction, her installation Teeth & Truth examines the desire to repress one’s identity through the underhanded black market for skin bleaching creams. The acceptance of the idea of whiteness being the standard by which an individual is measured reflects an act of cultural colonisation, when whiteness becomes normative this creates a desire to be white. The abundance of cream jars rams home the prevalence and intensity of this desire, women (as it is often women) having to apply cream to their entire body everyday would have to go through quite a few bottles every year. A poster for one brand of cream blatantly states “So Young, So Pretty, So White”, the bottles carry unsettlingly underhanded messages, promising a ‘younger’ complexion free of ‘nasty blemishes’. With instructions that include covering up lest the sun turn you dark again, (Faragaab describes the vitamin D deficiency many women would suffer), the whole process seems drawn out and pointless. Teeth & Truth is an ironic look at a desire to be white and Faragaab’s message is ultimately one of pride in one’s image.
Faragaab reflects again on the dynamics of cultural exchange and the suppression of cultural identity through the practice of ethnography. Her mixed media on paper works, including Barkan, Dayax and Arliye pieces take an ironic look at the tradition of ethnographic dissection; the classification of ‘types’ of people that served to ‘prove’ the superiority of white Anglo ethnicity. In all three works a man appears in a head shot similar to the kind that identifies criminals in police mug shots or the kind of image we would see in 19th century photographs of people from ‘exotic’ cultures, information such as name, age, occupation and marital status are recorded. They could be photographs of criminals, or they could be an anthropologist’s field notes, the important thing is that the two modes of seeing the ‘other’; the criminal or the tribesman, are virtually indistinguishable. Some figures have their eyes blocked out, reminding us that it is not so much the recording of information but the suppression of individuality that dominates patronising colonial attitudes that persist today.
Faragaab’s furniture pieces create a more positive take on cultural identity and the fluidity of exchange. Gambarr is a traditional piece of Somali furniture, painted with words that proudly state, ‘Made in Melbourne’ while Jimbarr, an impressive piece of craftsmanship hung to show the leather bands stringing it together reflects the pride of the maker and the artist. These furniture pieces are an assertion to both the Somali and Australian community that these things exist and that being in Australia does not preclude an absence of authentic Somali craftsmanship, it persists and coexists.
Faragaab sees herself as a social commentator, her personal mission is to change ‘bad culture’, “art,” she says at her floor talk “is a healing tool”, and this certainly seems to be her aim in installations like Teeth & Truth, Faragaab wants to open our eyes to the silence around shame and suppression of identity, as it comes from both within and without our own culture. At the same time she embraces fusion and fluidity of identity and this can be seen in her furniture pieces, but the element I most enjoy about her work is the pleasure she takes in celebrating the idiosyncrasies of Somali culture, she is comfortable with and celebrates difference, she is happy to have things separate; “(having) different colours means you can admire them.” The G with the J sound is a full exhibition, encompassing a rounded view of themes of identity; fluidity, difference, suppression and pride.