Contemporary culture moves quickly. Built-in obsolescence, updates and the adjective ‘new’ are significant agents of change. What was iconic and precious one moment is appropriated, replaced or simply discarded the next. The art world too is not immune for this constant exploration, this restless search for what Robert Hughes termed ‘the Shock of the New’. “Where do we go from here? Are we actually in the end state of art?” asked Grayson Perry in his 2013 Reith Lectures.
The artist Noura Bouzo is well aware of this shift in perception and uses traditional Islamic glass and bronze basins to underscore difference by placing them in a contemporary context. She also subverts their original use. What was once a precious object is now portrayed as just an everyday vessel for popcorn and seemingly as disposable. The viewer is prompted to shift their expectations, their assumptions about otherness, difference and the western concept of ‘Orientalism’. Her work is much more complex than this, however. In the pieces “A Profile Pic Culture” 1 and 2: not only are the once precious Islamic basins, now being used as popcorn pots. The popcorn, in turn, has morphed into a contemporary viewer, whose “profile pic” have now become our focus. It is as if we are forced to consider just what we now deem important. What is precious now and for how long will it remain so? What may have stayed constant for millennia is likely to shift in a moment. Therefore where are society’s foundations if everything is so ephemeral and transient?
These works are also situated within the gaudy artificiality of a fairground. In “A Profile Pic 1” the text reads: “I carry the sound of your voice in my heart and soul”. Here Bouzo makes reference to the bleeps and dings, the flashes and icons that underpin the world of avatars and online alter egos. It is a hypnotic world that almost prevents contemplation, yet humanity is almost desperate to seek meaning in what has been created. What Bouzo offers is an investigation into the very heart of what this new technological experience actually means. How do ancient culture, history and the past, fit into something which moves so fast the world actually almost appears to be blurred. Are we simply receiving impressions, approximations, précis? In the group of paintings entitled A Miniature (Af)fair of which A Profile Pic is a part, Bouzo incudes intricately illuminated figures from Islam’s Golden Age. Characters, which held such weight and significance, look anachronistic amidst the modern plastic toys that are eminently disposable. The characters’ garments, which in the past would have been illustrated in treatises complete with intricate arabesque patterns, have been replaced by colorful bubble wrap patterns. They epitomize transience, a product used to protect objects on journeys. Calligraphy no longer plays a primary role as it once did in Islamic scientific treatise and assemblies. Religious calligraphic symbols appear to be just another font, stripped of significance for many in this global fairground.
Brief Biographical Detail
Noura Bouzo was born in 1985 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and was educated at Central Saint Martins, University Of The Arts, London, UK where she studied for an Art & Fashion Degree. This was followed by an MA in History Of Art & Archaeology at the School Of Oriental & African Studies, University Of London. Then a BA in Fine Arts at the Lebanese American University, Beirut, Lebanon. She co-founded Oasis Magazine: an arts & culture magazine highlighting the Middle East and Arab World’s artistic scene, and the progress being made by the creatives, entrepreneurs, and those challenging the status quo. She has exhibited at The Globe Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, UAE, Lebanon, Tehran, Oman, Tunisia and Bahrain. In addition her work has been featured this year in the May and June Exhibitions entitled Art Below (Tube Stations), London, UK.