Saleh Barakat Gallery
May 11-June 30

Hiba Kalache has been somewhat bemused by the vast array of emotions her new exhibition, Lemonade Everything Was So Infinite, has evoked among its viewers. Some have cried in anguish, others have laughed with joy: it’s a testament to great power of her work. Presenting works on paper, paintings, a connective body of sculptures and an installation, the exhibition is a source of such vivacity, exuberance and intricacy, it’s impossible not to be moved by it.

The impetus of the project was a preoccupation with hope: what is it that sustains people and gives them the strength to endure in the face of adversity? This led Kalache to textual representations of paradise and the heavens. Therein, she found a sumptuous array of imagery – luscious, sensual descriptions of nature and an exalting of the naked human form, in all its innocence and naked visceral reality. Using a practise of écriture, to use a neologism of Roland Barthes, she communicated these descriptions through her art. Throughout the process, the relationship between the original text and her work is deconstructed, reconstructed and refigured, until the work becomes a new hermeneutic and symbolic language with an indeterminacy of its own.

Kalache’s initial works are hand-drawn and incredibly intricate. On closer inspection, one notices the anthropomorphic natural imagery – flowers burst with an array of tiny pink tongues, resembling delicate petals. The details seem to almost multiple before one’s eyes on the canvas, colliding and interweaving, eventually becoming the sprawling explosion that is the totality of the piece.

As the process continued, Kalache loosened the attachment to the text, and the structure of the language she was creating broke down. This is evident in her work – the canvases become larger, the gestures more dynamic. The images are retained from the earlier works but seem to explode with a renewed intensity. Nude pinks, bloodier reds, flowers resembling breasts and phalluses erupt onto the canvas, radiating a jubilant energy. This rupture in Kalache’s visual language is marked by a series of grey, clay bananas that emerge from the wall and spill onto the floor. They are lifeless, phallic and convey the artist’s unease with her relationship to the original text throughout her process.

Perhaps a significant part of the undeniable energy the exhibition seems to exude can be attributed to Kalache’s own intensity: her struggle is also here, implicitly exhibited. Lemonade Everything Was So Infinite is unmissable. The pieces seem to contain within them a transcendental, corporeal world, at once ecstatic, divine and blissful.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Inventing Perspective #45, page 24.