Monia Ben Hamouda
About Telepathy and other Violences
ChertLüdde, Berlin
28 April – 1 June 2023

As part of Gallery Weekend Berlin, Tunisian-Italian artist Monia Ben Hamouda presents her solo exhibition About Telepathy and other Violences at ChertLüdde. Reflecting the cultural influences of her upbringing, the exhibition sculpts forms of communication beyond spoken language and ventures into the psyche with visual semantics that she defines as an iteration of telepathy.

The daughter of an Islamic calligrapher, Monia Ben Hamouda (1991, Milan) addresses her heritage by converging abstract forms of Arabic scriptures with figurative elements. Dominated by visual references from her Muslim upbringing, the exhibition intimately addresses her relationships to art history from the Middle East and Western Europe. Going against the ban on iconography in Islam, known as Aniconism, the sculptures in About Telepathy and other Violences reveal different phases of a moving hand. 

Covered in a burst of spice and dust, ten hanging steel sculptures are strung between burnt wooden elements wrapped in cloth and cemented drapes hanging on the walls. The contrasts between the firm form of the chromatic edges, the softened contours of the charred wood, and the hardened fabrics of her 2023 series Monument to Vulnerability (Stoning of the Devil) highlight the tension between the dynamic gestures and the static pauses of each work. 

The steel sculptures of Ben Hamouda’s series Aniconism as Figuration Urgency (2021-ongoing) cut across the room with their abstract calligraphic strokes in the twilight of the exhibition space. Conjuring approaches to the Italian Futurist avant-garde, Ben Hamouda employs strategies of rendering dynamism through the repetition of images. Layered asymmetrically behind each other, the steel sculptures signal movement in the way they gradually evolve to show the action of a hand at various stages of throwing. 

Subliminal influences of the Futurist artist Giacomo Balla (1871, Turin – 1958, Rome), who still has an undeniable presence in Ben Hamouda’s hometown of Milan, find themselves in her new series of wooden sculptures. Her 2023 sculpture La mano del violinista (The Destruction of the Idols of Ka’ba) can be seen as an echo of Balla’s violin bow found in his 1912 painting The hands of the violinist. At the same time, the works contain traces of Islamic history. Becoming emblems of all that has been lost, Ben Hamouda’s wood sculptures resist being overlooked, calling to mind the iconography concentrated in the Destruction of the Idols of the Ka’ba. Depicted in an assemblage of paintings that circulated in the Middle East and North Africa around 970 AH (1550 CE), the Destruction of the Idols of the Ka’ba features the prophet Muhammad and his army destroying pagan idols in Mecca. Ben Hamouda evokes this moment in a more abstract visual language, with the broken wooden limb-like elements stretching outwards from the installation much like the demons said to have fled the ruined idols of the Ka’ba.

Hanging like deconstructed paintings, the series Monument to Vulnerability (Stoning of the Devil) represents the three walls waiting at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Destined to resist the ritual of ‘stoning the devil’ on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the walls referenced here withstand the force of countless hands in sharp motion. 

While the repeated depiction of the hand throwing a stone refers to the ritual observed during the Hajj, it also symbolizes an act of defense against violent oppression in ancient as well as contemporary eras. Held in time, the moments captured in About Telepathy and other Violences speak of transformation and stagnation, making poignant connections to the religious and political discourse in the Arab world. 

Gathering multiple references from her own upbringing, Ben Hamouda’s sculptures are all unified in the exhibition through her use of spices and other powders. Chilli, cumin, curry, henna, coconut charcoal, dried beetroot and salt cast a sandy layer that ripples across the floor and over the sculptures. The spices are the final element in her artistic process, part of a personal ritual tracing back to her paternal family. Used in medicine, cooking and numerous spiritual practices, the spices tap into ideas of healing and recovery within conflict. 

About Telepathy and other Violences is an exhibition that deals with the inability to suppress identity, fused with Monia Ben Hamouda’s personal heritage and the historical events which continue to shape her life. The visual language created in the exhibition is a personal signature unique to the artist, with the telepathy of the unspoken and unscripted influences emerging within her art. The final act of covering the works in a spell of spices and powders unifies as well as protects the relationships that emerge between the artist, her artworks and her heritage.

Photos by Andrea Rossetti