Saturday, 27 February 2016

Mohammed Joha at Rich Mix

I first saw Mohammed Joha's work as part of the group show 'Despite' at Richmix in December 2012. Thanks to the dedicated and passionate curatorial work of Aser El Saqqa at Arts Canteen, Mohammed Joha has just had his first solo show in London. I was very happy to be asked to write the text for this show so have reproduced it here along with some of the paintings and several details. 

The Journey
‘As long as I am in my own self, I can be anyplace’
Mohammed Joha

We live in a world in which breathless media presentation of geo-political and human tragedy is simplistic, repetitive and parochially self-serving.  The capacity for reflection, compassion and knowledge is slowly eroded by a constant and chaotic stream of distraction, diversion and platitude. In such a context, the act of putting coloured paint on a surface and hanging it on a wall is more welcome and more necessary than ever, particularly when that act produces the body of contemporary work presented here.  

‘The Journey’ operates on a number of levels. It is primarily a creative journey through the work of Mohammed Joha. However, it is also a journey of human experience in which determination, resilience and joy are affirmed.

The 10 paintings in this exhibition have been selected from three consecutive series of works. The first series is the impressionistic and melancholic ‘Sound Barrier’ which features four paintings, including ‘Freedom’, from 2009. The direct and gentle gaze emanating from the centre, and the figurative tension between stillness and the possibility of flight, provide both atmosphere and context for the whole exhibition.

The second series, ‘IN x OUT’, from 2013/14 was created as a response to Israel’s long established policy of house demolition. The physical loss of a building is visible but the impact on the complex relationship with home and place, and the trauma associated with its absence, is not. Of this series Mohammed Joha states:

‘IN x OUT shows the object and its reverse, the fact and its opposite, that is, the home as harbour for personal belongings and possessions, protecting and safeguarding these from public reach or indiscreet glances. Then, the loss of the house and its destruction, whereby the entire contents– with all the small, personal details of a private life – are brutally unveiled and made visible to every and anybody passing by.’

The relationship between person and place is intrinsic to Joha’s creative and philosophical enquiry into the nature of both global and individual realities and the intersection between them.  Thus the next stage of Joha’s creative journey has been hugely affected by his immersion and experience in the diverse transnational communities of Europe. First as an asylum seeker in Norway and more recently in Italy, where towns like Lampedusa are overwhelmed with the catastrophic human consequences of political ineptitude elsewhere.

What has emerged is a third series of ‘Identity Paintings’ in which the juxtaposition of vibrant and kinetic colour and form becomes a way of telling a complex geo-political and emotional story.  Boats are the primary motif of these paintings but in Joha’s view the boats contain individuals bringing different colours, cultures and experiences with them.  Each boat is a temporary home and each is the land beneath the feet of the traveller for as long as this stage of the journey lasts.

When Joha inverts the boats like hats they can be belongings carried on the head in transit or tombstones in the graveyard of the Mediterranean Sea. Crucially, however, each boat represents the dreams and the hopes of those who they carry. For those undertaking the journey they are boats of life even if they lead to death.

‘Thousands of immigrants have drowned on their way to Europe in the hope of reaching safer shores. In their original countries they are facing death so they are pushed forward by the same target. To realise their biggest dream of a better life, where they can sing with joy for being saved.’

Assaulted by the daily media voyeurism of human tragedy, it is easy to get lost in a pallete that mimics the dark realities of the present. Mohammed Joha’s insistence that the full spectrum of life must, and will, prevail is an essential provision for the future. The point is quite simple. It is to present hope and to honour the dreams of all those who undertake journeys that never reach their destinations as well as those who do. It is also a compassionate reminder that anyone who has made such a journey knows that the journey of others will always be a part of their own.