Wudu Diorama
Curated by Anthony Discenza
Lower Cavity, Holyoke
18 June – 8 July 2022

Born into a Muslim community as the daughter of an Islamic calligrapher, Ben Hamouda navigates distances between complex histories–of art, culture, language, and religion–reconciling these polarities through a personal poetics articulated through a syntax of gesture and raw materiality. Following a belief that every individual is inextricably connected to the psychological universe of their ancestors, Ben Hamouda attempts to master her influences against the backdrop of a contemporary, continually shifting landscape. She confronts her generational heritage through what she describes as a shamanic process, creating works that act as gestural exorcisms of expectations imposed on her by both tradition and a politicized present. Her visual language, which employs a broad range of formal approaches, is steeped in cultural and religious symbology that applies pressure to Muslim culture’s injunction against figurative representation. Her materials—raw steel, salvaged wood, powdered North African spices, charcoal—serve as conduits through which she channels the divergent forces that have shaped her; talismanic performers in a ritual that manifests the struggle between the strictures of tradition and an urge to self-expression. Working with massive wooden beams used in the original construction of the former mill building housing lower_cavity, Ben Hamouda has created a 40-foot-long sculptural construction, Wudu Diorama, that considers linkages between ruined architecture and physical and spiritual protection. Atmospheric haze effects and several kilograms’ worth of powdered spices add layers of visual and olfactory complexity to the installation. A complementary work, It’s a Windy Day in Tataouine III (Hammam door), acts as a gestural intervention within obsolete remnants of the building’s original infrastructure.