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Zina Al-Shukri

The Something

Stricken with the constant anxiety of temporality, I am left to remind myself that individuals are ephemeral, yet the existence of people remains constant. Especially now, there are no areas devoid of sociality. Everything a person expresses is reactionary or responsive to the happenings surrounding them. These reactions and responses are often contributed by another body. The exterior life of the subject creates the interior qualities and vice versa. The people in my work are a representation of this interior/exterior relationship. These figures are generally exaggerated and altered to heighten their expressive and emotive qualities in order to explore personal and cultural experiences. Coming from a diverse multicultural background makes me particularly interested in others sociocultural experiences. I see myself in the people I like to look at.

Observing people is a practice that has fascinated me since childhood. As an immigrant child displaced from Iraq and freshly immersed into a new culture, I was naturally curious about the people around me and often trying to find new ways to relate. Sharing interests and conversations, mimicry, playing games were all my early methods of interaction. And we were always moving. Every few years my family and I would relocate to another academic schema and acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings. This was not the easiest task considering we were an Arab-Muslim family trying to fit into a predominantly Southern-Christian environment. Nevertheless, I made friends and that is who I paint, with the same curiosity I had as a child trying to fit in. These paintings map shared conversations, mimicry and the naturally evolved intellectual play.

I see and relate to myself when making other peoples’ portraits, while simultaneously providing a way for the sitters to relate to themselves and to me. These paintings are an exploration of genuine interactions happening in real life over extended periods of actual time. As I develop the image, the subject is invited to watch and respond to my progress hence a feedback loop occurs between us. Their image unfolds before them, creating a vulnerable and enchanted state which can often create a difficult emotional/social juncture. Giving attention or a psychological 'checking in' to create a space of dialogue, to illustrate the relationship between the individual subjects and their experience of social conditions is a key element of the work. This experience is shaped by a full collaboration between the sitter and me to create a tangible, intimate and visceral encounter.

My process takes into consideration the notions of transition, conflicts/hybridity between culture/religion, individuality and shared experience, psychology and social determination.