A first encounter with the surreal and otherworldly photographs of Italian-Senegalese artist, Maïmouna Guerresi stops you in your tracks. They are achingly beautiful as the Pove del Grappa born, now Dakar based artist captures through portraits mediations on the mystical dimensions to human beings, one she describes as ‘a connectedness beyond borders – psychological, cultural, religious and political.’
Much has been written about Guerresi’s transition from her Catholic upbringing to Sufi-oriented Islam but her works show an interconnectedness of bodies, in her world, they have limitless abilities due to the hybrid spiritual and otherworldliness they possess – levitated, floating and expansive.
Important to Guerresi’s images is this an invocation of both native and historic traditions, alongside fusing sculpture and architecture. In the series Minarets Hats (2001) and as the title implies, these sets of images reference typical slender towers that typically call Muslims to prayer.
The veil, a dominant and recurring motif in here works as we all know, has many meanings depending on belief systems from which it emerges. A veil can cover the face, the head, or an object; it can also conceal, or separate. In ancient Jewish tradition, a veil separated sinful man from the presence of God dwelling in the midst of his people as the Face of God could not be looked upon by sinful eyes. In Islam, the hijab commonly associated with women is one response to the Quran where God tells believing men and women to lower their gaze and to dress modestly.
The white, veiled (chador) cloaked female figure in Genitilla Al wilada (2007) seems to be giving birth to a new world/ideas, symbolically represented by a black circle protruding from her white cloak which is also releasing bubbles, alluding also to weightlessness. Genitilla is the name of a pagan female festivity, and Al Wilada is the Arabic name for a woman who is about to give birth.
In, RĀBIʿA (2016), the figure don an elaborately printed chador and stares directly at the lens as if nothing is amiss in the tree branches sticking out of her veiled head. Both women have a streak of paint running from forehead to chin which evokes pre-Islamic native traditions.
Guerresi’s figures portray a universal truth about community and the soul. The body becomes a sacred dwelling, a meeting-place for humanity to re-discover its shared mystic body.
Maïmouna Guerresi is currently exhibiting works in Africa Is No Island at Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech, an independent, not-for-profit contemporary art museum, one of the first of its kind on the continent.
Featured image: RĀBIʿA, 2016, Lambda print,100×79 cm, ©Maïmouna Guerresi