Drawing from her own family lineage and the way she has seamlessly navigated different cultures, Susan Hefuna makes works that unite seemingly opposing traditions and ethnic narratives. Dividing her time between Cairo, Düsseldorf and New York, the artist embraces the nomadic, viewing it as a terrain of possibility. Working in different disciplines from sculpture and video to performance and drawing, she deploys each medium’s unique characteristics to voice her thoughts on multiculturalism, immigration, changing cultural and social contexts and the cross-pollination between them.
In ToGather, her 2017 solo exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, Hefuna showed a series of structures made of a type of palmwood known as faz that echoed the long artisanal tradition of her native Cairo, along with a series of drawings on tracing paper, the cornerstone of her practice. Hefuna’s drawings feature the simplest geometric shapes and often reference buildings and cityscapes.
Her current exhibition at Pi Artworks is a more daring proposition: as its title suggests, it consists of a selection of textile works. Some are costumes previously used for her performances in Dubai and Vienna, while other pieces include patterns, abstract shapes and even political posters in stitched felt. Seductive but disquieting, these garments disclose the presence and the absence of the artist, bringing the question of self to the foreground. This marks a development from her previous exhibitions, where emphasis was mostly placed on the architecture and the surrounding context.
Decidedly ceremonial, a black dress hanging on the wall of the show is the epitome of minimalism, bringing to mind the conceptual rigour of Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. Hefuna’s investigation into the cultural history of the garment is clearly expressed in the different ways a piece of clothing is understood in different cultures, but also in the way textile-based practices bear different connotations in various cultures.
Still viewed by some as a feminine pursuit, textile-based works raise a number of issues about gender and feminisms. Hefuna’s stitched felt pieces that hang on the wall could be compared to colourful drawings that carry strong messages. Stand up and Beyond are their titles and I’m drawn to read them as a prompt to speak up and move away from stereotypical interpretations of gender, culture and self. The conceptual reframing of Hefuna’s work through textile thinking, at the intersection of aesthetic practice and critical investigation, marks a new territory for the artist and gives us an exhibition of sparkling intelligence.
Curator of Programmes
Pi Artworks, 55 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8EG. Open Tuesday-Friday 10.00-18.00, Saturday 11.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 22 June 2019. www.piartworks.com