Sulaïman Majali: 'It's that process of reflection and the way artworks can create markers in time that feels transformational'

  • This article has been written with the support of Sotheby's.
  • 25 February 2020
Sulaïman Majali: 'It's that process of reflection and the way artworks can create markers in time that feels transformational'

After Petra, Jordan, March 8th 1839, plate 96 from Volume III of 'The Holy Land', David Roberts

Margaret Tait Award nominee discusses latest exhibition Saracen Go Home

In 2020, Sulaïman Majali is taking part in both the Satellites programme at Collective and the Talbot Rice Gallery Residents programme in Edinburgh, as well as Glasgow International. Luke Collins, Satellites' programme producer, caught up with the Margaret Tait Award nominee.

Luke Collins: When and why did you decide to become an artist?

Sulaïman Majali: If art is something we think and speak and listen with, then I don't think I decided to become an artist at all but started making because I had nothing else to speak with. This question feels so hinged on definitions of what art is and can be that I feel like I could give so many answers. I found it hard to communicate and make sense of others as a young person and this meant I was observing constantly from a place of questioning. Making art has become important and has always felt that way. Art tends to survive and feels like a space from which what is speakable about the times we live in can reach into our futures.

LC: Sound is important in both your video and sculptural work. Can you tell us about your approach to sound in these two spaces?

SM: I have a strange personal relationship with sound in the way that my brain is easily overstimulated by it, but I've learnt how to find some stillness through the years. It does mean when I'm in a busy café or restaurant that I can hear multiple conversations at once, plus the lights buzzing. I use sound as a way of bringing different spaces into collision with one another. This is nothing sound doesn't already do by crossing borders, wombs and divides. In my films, sound is often the originator of the image and then splinters and ruptures from there, which can be messy, but similarly, it's all a way of folding spaces and creating those wormholes where we can reconfigure ways of locating ourselves. There are multiple cores to my use of sound but this feels more rooted in observations on the way sound functions within diasporas and, particularly for me, at the peripheries.

LC: Tell us about an artwork that has influenced you.

SM: Me, art and influence don't exactly agree – there's so much more that impacts me before art, but if I had to say then it would be Huda Lutfi's painting 'Democracy is Coming' (2008). I didn't see any art in the flesh until around 2008 and the exhibition of British Orientalist paintings at Tate Britain called Lure of the East. But it was the artist and cultural historian Huda Lutfi who first came onto my radar (talking about the war through my Myspace feed) as I was protesting the Iraq war at school in 2003 and something clicked. In my mind, 'Democracy is Coming' is distinctly tied to memories of us all climbing over the fence to escape school and teachers watching as we were beaten by police – we made it to Parliament though. I didn't really understand what artworks were, to be honest, and that made it more impactful later on in life; maybe artworks only do that in hindsight for me though. I think they really can and do have an impact when we encounter them in the midst of something (an event, a thing, an era) because it's that process of reflection and the way artworks can create markers in time that feels transformational. They really can clarify and distill things for us in interesting ways.

LC: What do you hope for in 2020?

SM: I want to say these aren't hopeful times, but I think hope is so inseparable from desperation and these are definitely desperate times, and one desperate measure would be hope, so these are also incredibly hopeful times too. I hope we become strong for whatever lies ahead and I hope we grow to hold multiple truths.

LC: Can you describe your forthcoming exhibition at Collective in 3 words?

SM: No place here.

Saracen Go Home, Collective, Edinburgh, until Sun 29 Mar; false dawn, Glasgow International Festival Project Space, Fri 24 Apr–Sun 10 May.

Sulaïman Majali: saracen go home

Work from Glasgow-based artist, the title coming from racist graffiti sprayed on a mosque in Cumbernauld in 2016.

Sulaïman Majali : false dawn

false dawn invokes Scheherazade from the folktale ‘1001 Nights’ and imagines her as a radical disruptor who maps and obstructs the colonial matrix. In telling stories to survive a tyrant who would kill her at dawn, Scheherazade ensures her survival by pausing each tale and continuing the following evening. Taking its name…

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