On the Cover Artist: Maha Malluh
Maha Malluh’s photogram “Screened” is the cover image of the present issue of Papercuts. Riyadh-based artist Malluh finds inspiration in her spiritual connection with the region of Najd and its history. Her keen interest in material culture also influences her art. Through her international career that spans more than four decades Malluh has experimented with various media and recycled objects. She often turns to the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographic technique that produces an image, the “photogram,” without the use of a camera. Papercuts magazine’s Art Editor, Mamoona Riaz, and Associate Editor, Torsa Ghosal, discuss what Maha Malluh’s artwork means to them vis-à-vis the magazine’s theme.
Torsa Ghosal (TG): Last summer while walking through the halls of Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, I came across audio cassettes mounted on wooden trays displayed on the wall. I remember wondering how long it had been since I had listened to an audio cassette and whether we still had a tape player at home. The artwork that immediately brought back memories of living in the era before iPods and CDs, as it turned out, belonged in Maha Malluh’s series “Food for Thought.” What has been your experience of encountering Maha Malluh’s art?
Mamoona Riaz (MR): I have come across her work in different exhibitions, mostly biennials. In a few shows, I have seen her artwork displayed alongside the work of those artists from Pakistan who are influenced by Islamic traditions, motifs, and patterns but do not adhere to rigid religious ideologies.
TG: While the spiritual aspect of Malluh’s work was something I had also noticed—after all, the audio cassettes she used in “Food for Thought” were recordings of sermons, interpreting Islam in a particular way, that circulated widely in the 1980s—I think, I was most immediately struck by how she had turned mediating objects that would normally appeal to the aural faculties into visual art. Perhaps my response to her artwork was also engendered by the fact that it stood alongside collages, photos, and installations of other contemporary artists from Europe and the Middle East who also re-contextualize media objects and practices; thereby, forcing the audience to reconsider the very notion of mediation. As a curator yourself, do you see Malluh’s artwork as belonging to any particular artistic tradition or movement?
MR: As a curator, I would group her with contemporary artists who are interested in the impact of globalization and consumer culture. As you know, she uses recycled material in her art. The image—“Screened”—which we are using for the cover comes from her series titled “Tradition & Modernity” and she has often stated that her inspiration comes from her own country, its contrasting images and ideas. So, in that sense, her aesthetic—even when it explores religious indoctrination—does so in the light of her country’s modernization.
TG: Yes, and as the photogram “Screened” exposes the process of surveillance, we realize that she is also critical of what the global modernity entails.