Outside Leighton House Museum, 2015.
Inside Leighton House Museum, 2015.
Raed Yassin, 'Kissing Amnesia' show at the Leighton House Museum Installation view July 2015
Raed Yassin, Ruins In Space, 2014 (detail)
Raed Yassin, Mama with balloons (“Dancing,Smoking, Kissing” series), 2013 mixed media (edition of 2 + 1 a.p.) 100 x 100 cm ©Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki
Raed Yassin, Yassin Dynasty, 2013.
Raed Yassin, Yassin Dynasty, 2013.
Raed Yassin's solo show, titled Kissing Amnesia is a delight for the eyes and a ticket across the world compacted in two sumptuous rooms. What a fantastic show!
Let's talk first about the setting: the iconic, historic, Leighton House Museum. This is an absolute must-see for anyone in London: a small, boutique museum for the condiscenti of interior design and art. This was the residence of Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896), a Victorian artist and President of the Royal Academy. Built to Leighton's requirements, he kept decorating it over his lifetime... a product of 30 years of collecting and arranging leads today to a unique gem, one of the most beautiful houses I've ever visited. Let me tell you.. It's not everyday I am impressed by an interior design. I truly appreciate the moment when I loose all senses to beauty of the environment I am plunged in. This was one of them.
Lord Leighton was not an orientalist, but a passionate collector and fervent admirer of Islamic Art. To put it bluntly, he transposed a mini version of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia copula in his living room. But he also liked East-meets-West dialogues. Walking around the rooms makes me realize that East-West dialogues that are not a 21st century invention. He had Old Masters and 19th century Victorian prints and paintings juxtaposed to Greek columns and nude sculptures, alongside Ottoman textiles and Safavid tiles walls. A quintessential red brick London home becomes an art-filled Marrakech villa. Putting blue Kashan and Kutahya ceramic tiles on his walls, Ottoman mosaics, constructing corners nonchalant Arabian-style sitting-down areas throughout his house, of cushions and gold details worth of an Islamic palace.. no one can possibly guess this is what awaits you when walking along the Victorian houses of Holland Park Road. This was simply the best pleasant surprise I have had in a while.
These photographs do not do justice to this house. It is open to the public, and hosts a number of exhibition per year. On right now is Raed Yassin's Kissing Amnesia. It comprises of three major pieces: an music installation, a series of embroidered 'paintings' and a set of ceramic vases. I already appreciate the variety in medium. Variety is probably the word I would choose to describe the show.
Yassin's music installation, titled Ruins in Space, replays en boucle the Arab music queen: who else than Umm Kulthum. The Egyptian singer is the Arab's world most recognizable voices. She has been such a huge inspiration to Arab contemporary aritsts (see some references in Arab Pop Art). I was expecting a simple celebration of her music: but what did I find? Again, so surprised. Her vinyl disk has Korean inscriptions. The wall text reads that Yassin bought the vinyl on Ebay, and it is a remain of a short-lived Korean radio fascination in the 80s with the Umm Klumtoum's songs. I smile, and later read on the show's pamphlet that Yassin deals with 'constructed reality' with this piece.
Next up are the embroidered paintings. A series of extremely well-crafted, vibrantly coloured rectangular flat embroideries of daily Middle Eastern family scenes. Some are quite cinematographic, like Kissing (2013) and Kissing 2 (2013) and reminiscent of Egyptian cinema posters from the 40s and 50s. Others are scenes of children, wife and husbands, sharing a meal and spending time together. It is almost like Yassin makes an ironical comment on the Western fascination with the 'Arab world' and how 'they live their daily life' amongst 'bombs and grenades'. He depict this daily life, which is joyful, loving, warm. It made me at least want to jump in the picture and join these families. But he does more: these characters stand in a cloud of dreamy patterns. The craftsmanship is on point: these embroideries are at out this world beautiful: shiny, colourful, composition is on point. Nothing is too much. You would see these types of patterns on fine porcelain or luxurious textiles: instead you see them as a backdrop of a contemporary painting. Yassin celebrates the Islamic Art traditional textile craftsmanship, that allured the whole world only a few centuries ago.
These are Chinese Ming-style porcelain vases, produced in China in 2013 under the commission of Yassin himself, that show a twist on their usual floral patterns: handpainted on these fine porcelain vases are scenes of Lebanese civil war. Drones, tanks, planes crashing, ruins of Byblos' columns and remains of Roman architecture, and crushed concrete Beirut buildings... Some quotes of Yassin's interview with Ibraaz in 2012 about these pieces:
"I wanted to do a project about the Civil War that really makes it more like a decorative item." "By putting it on decorative items, I get rid of it, in a way – it becomes like a vase, for the house."
Every person reading the wall label of the piece was seen a second later examining, knees bent, every detail of this fascinating news-worthy and timely scenery. Yassin is not only bridging East and East (as going against bridging East and West), but he is celebrating the Oriental way of looking at art: with painted and glazed ceramics, hand painted miniatures, embroidered textiles and carved metalworks, it's all in the details. Appreciating a piece of art from a meter's distance is a Western concept. The Eastern way to truly appreciate art is with a magnifying glass.
Strong conceptual practice, powerful political message, and exceptional craft: rare are occasions these three meet. You know it's good art when they do.
Raed Yassin was born in 1979 in Beirut, and studied theatre at the Beirut's Institute of Fine Arts. He had shows worldwide and won recently the recognized Abraaj Prize. The Leighton House Museum is open (almost) daily and can be accessed via the Notting Hill tube station.