Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde presents South African artists Hasan and Husain Essop’s second solo exhibition with the gallery in Dubai. Where the Essop brothers’ 2011 show served as an extension of their on going concerns with the art’s relationship with religion, often based on memories, rituals and stereotypes, Unrest focuses on new works created in the last year as part of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art.
Their performance-based photographs highlight a multicultural clash between religion and popular culture, in which they explore the dominating influence of Western theatrics and narratives that are constructed to depict a certain reality. According to the artists, “Each photograph reflects us in a battle of moral, religious and cultural conflict. Two dominant personalities appear, East and West, with all their stereotypes, and environments are chosen as stages on which to perform and define their behaviours.” As twin brothers and collaborators, the artists have set out to find themselves in each other, thus exploring the concept of Ubuntu, a mid 19th century belief in South Africa that a person can only discover himself through other people.
Location plays a crucial role in the photographs. At the heart of the series is Cape Town, where the brothers were born and raised amidst a melting pot of various cultures. By choosing locations familiar to them, they shoot each landscape in a sphere against which they perform and multiply themselves in clones that populate the urban landscape. Their works are autobiographical but continually raise questions about their identity as Muslims and its juxtaposition with Western traits. In doing so, they not only comment on the stereotyping of Muslims, but also on the blurring of individuals as ‘other’ from a Western perspective, and as a practical response to Islamic reservations about the depiction of life.
In “Chest Beating” and “Self Flagellation”, the artists crop their heads to bring focus to their bodies, which are placed against a green backdrop. The videos don’t offer viewers any visual references about their location, association or details about the event itself. In doing so, they explore the rituals performed during Ashura (the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic Calendar), and the ways in which the body is used and consumed in the remembrance of Imam Hasan and Husain, grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad. The “Promise” follows a similar context, in which two faceless and limbless men, draped in a camouflaged robe, gesture a truce. They reach out to one another with their invisible hands and the Holy Qur’an maintains the dignity of their performance.
Unrest continues the Essop brothers’ interrogation of their identity within a local and global society, and seeks to capture a growing sense of unease. As twin brothers, their similarities and differences become interesting as new and often personal stories unfold in each work.