10/3/20 - 1/4/20
Documentation by Lucy Foster
Sarah Ujmaia Care Label
Words by Emma Nixon
Sarah Ujmaia’s work welcomes you; it pulls you in, asking you to look harder and more deeply at its intricate detail. It coyly waves without giving away too much information. Aptly titled Care Label, Ujmaia’s exhibition at Cathedral Cabinet explores drawing as an extended practice. Drawing is an act of self-determination, to put a mark on a piece of paper – but for her, drawing is also a way of being in the world.
Care labels, as we are most familiar with them, contextualize and aid one’s understanding of a garment through a series of prescribed symbols and instructions. But the Care Label as a concept appears to function within Ujmaia’s work almost as a methodology or a framework that the artist has subconsciously employed. She utilizes care through an economic use of line in her painting, through meticulousness in her drawings, and in the tenderness of sourcing her materials. Her work’s sentimental nature connects with ideas of embodying vulnerability, the home, tradition, language and a female body. As a first generation Chaldean woman, the way she handles these topics is both considered and deeply felt. Labels, and by extension in-situ-texts, are parameters Ujmaia feels limited by, requiring from her a level of performativity that she mediates on within this exhibition.
Holding Hand Braided Ceramic, 2020, centres on a realistic representation of a small sculpture Ujmaia made last year. A braided ceramic sits atop a folded piece of cotton towel – a cutting from her late Mama’s (Grandmother’s) robe. Sarah cut the piece as a keepsake when her mother threw the bathrobe out. After keeping the small piece of soft cloth in her honours studio for a year, she came to realize she’d misplaced it. The only remnant that now existed of this once tangible memento was a photograph she had taken of the sculpture. Through the careful reproduction of this image, Ujmaia tries to recreate an object that she links to her ethnography and lineage. A towel can be read as a plethora of things, and within this work it may not even be read as a towel. The drawing deflects an expectation to perform in a particular way, as it does not appear to be overtly linked to her origins, and without context provided through in-situ-text, this may never be known. The work also reflects the artist’s wider approach - to reuse, redraw and reconsider her old work in order to renegotiate tensions that are in a constant flux. The braided sculpture drawn on top of the towel is a reoccurring motif. Her self-drawn frame is comprised of rough pink pastel and a frayed, ragged piece of canvas cloth coated in pomegranate pigment from a failed painting - together they are linked by a nostalgically drawn “S” braid.
Folding Over, 2020, uses painting as an extended method of drawing. The light green paste with which she paints is made up of parsley from her father’s garden, which serves as pigment, and the residual flour from nougat that she bought in Iraq, which acts here as a binding agent. These two materials, personally significant, do not present themselves to an unknowing eye, and remain coded, lurking somewhere within the drawing. A grey abstract shape done in pastel climbs the middle of the canvas coming to rest along the top edge, its form occupying the self-made surface of the work.
Halfway through the duration of this exhibition, a third work will be added to the window to coincide with Sarah’s exhibition Show and Tell, which will open at BLINDSIDE Gallery upstairs on the 19th of March. Seven levels apart, the two exhibitions will poetically and conceptually connect. Through the deliberate exclusion of a wall text at BLINDSIDE, the exhibition will extend upon Sarah’s interest in how meaning can be coded within a lexicon, through what one chooses to reveal, or conceal, and in how we read and engage in art through in-situ-texts – this being one of them.