This autumn at Tate Britain Sophia Al-Maria will debut Beast Type Song, a new video examining the relationship between language, education and writing, and the erasure of identities, cultures and the future. Presented as an immersive installation, this will be the latest in Tate Britain’s ongoing Art Now series of free exhibitions showcasing emerging talent and highlighting new developments in British art.
Sophia Al-Maria (b.1983) is a London-based artist and screenwriter. Her work explores the complex impacts of globalisation on human experience and the possibilities of other worlds outside of our own. Beast Type Song is a new video installation which features performances by Yumna Marwan, Elizabeth Peace and boychild, as well as Al-Maria herself. Shot inside the now derelict former campus of Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, Al-Maria casts each figure against the science fictional backdrop of a distant solar battle as evoked by Etel Adnan in her epic war poem The Arab Apocalypse. In the poem, Adnan uses drawing to communicate what cannot be expressed in words. Similarly, Al-Maria’s video explores the revision of history through graphic and bodily gestures. When written language cannot express trauma, a new language of drawings, movement and music give voices to the speechless.
Drawing on their own personal heritages, the protagonists reflect on the cultures and languages they have inherited as children of various colonial legacies. Throughout the video each figure encounters some form of violence whether perpetrated through the hostile gaze of the camera or through the suppression and rewriting of fact. By weaving together music, literature, oral history, film and dance, Beast Type Song serves as an escape route from these oppressive and often violent narratives. At Tate Britain, the video will be accompanied by an installation in the form of script pages, correspondence and photographs relating to the research and making of the work.
Born to an American mother and Qatari father, Al-Maria spent her youth between Washington state and Doha. Her art afterwards reflected her life as someone who had grown up between these two different, sometimes opposing cultures - most poignantly articulated in her idea of “Gulf Futurism”. Coined with the musician Fatima Al Qadiri the term explained the recent seismic urban and economic development in the region as well as the environmental damage, historic amnesia and religious conservatism it accompanied.
In 2016 Al-Maria presented Black Friday, her first US solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and was nominated for Film London’s Jarman Award. In 2018, Al-Maria exhibited ilysm at Project Native Informant, London, and was Whitechapel Gallery’s Writer in Residence—her exhibition BCE (Whitechapel Gallery, January–April 2019), drew on a year of performances and readings presented with Victoria Sin. Forthcoming exhibitions include Julia Stoschek Collection, Dusseldorf (2020). Al-Maria is contributing editor of Bidoun, and guest editor of The Happy Hypocrite – Fresh Hell, issue 8 (Book Works, 2015). Her memoir, The Girl Who Fell to Earth was published in 2012 and was translated into Arabic and published by Bloomsbury Qatar in 2015.
Art Now is a series of free exhibitions at Tate Britain focusing on new and recent work by emerging artists. Since the 1990s, Art Now has recognized talent at its outset and provided a launching platform for artists who have gone on to become established figures on the international art scene. The series has recently included France-Lise McGurn, Joanna Piotrowska, Jesse Darling and Lisa Brice.
Art Now: Sophia Al-Maria: Beast Type Song is curated by Nathan Ladd, Assistant Curator, Contemporary British Art.