What is home?

The nature of home – from a political place to an emotional mindset– is explored by artists in a new exhibit for Shubbak Festival

Home is where the heart is, or where the art is - this month at the Pump House gallery in Battersea Park, as an ambitious group show opens. It is planned to coincide with Shubbak, the city-wide celebration of Arab culture in its third, bi-annual iteration. With works spanning installation, video, drawing and sculpture, the exhibition gives a variety of responses to the question ‘What is Home?

As Ukrainian/Tunisian artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke muses, she is from everywhere and nowhere. These artists yearn for somewhere predictable and familiar to call home, where you can be at peace and return to throughout your life as if by instinct. Increasingly evident is an absence of this; as artists examine the dystopic situation of displaced persons and shifting, unstable environments as cities mutate and homes are lost due to war, revolution or rapid growth.

Faten Eldisouky
Gypsum, by Faten Eldisouky, uses different styles of domesticity to suggest home Image: Faten Eldisouky/Shubbak Festival

In his eloquent series Beyond Memory, Gaza-born Hazem Harb juxtaposes historical photographs charting the migration of Palestinians with the hard, concrete walls of the Israeli West Bank separation barrier. Instead of portraying nostalgia for his homeland he almost defiantly erases it: ‘the memory of the place no longer has any strength of narrative, for the place is no longer as it was’.

Ayman Yossri Daydban, also born in Palestine has made his home in Saudi Arabia. His deeply personal artworks constantly search for an identity, frequently returning to his Palestinian roots, here literally by using soil.

Two young Egyptian artists, Faten Eldisouky and Walid Elsawi have gained recognition through the excellent MASS Alexandria programme for home-grown talent established by the artist Wael Shawky. In Gypsum, Eldisouky suggests that objects themselves can signify home, through a particular taste or style of domesticity. Elsawi, in his quirky short films, uses such objects as his subject but subverts them by adding idiosyncratic text.

For Amina Menia, home is Algiers. A Peculiar Family Album shows archives of French architect Fernand Pouillon and the buildings he was responsible for when in 1953 he was appointed to undertake ambitious social housing projects across the city. Despite war breaking out later that year, his urban planning is integral to the feel of the city today. Through her heartfelt narration, Menia talks of the city’s ‘mystical beauty…you can’t quite identify what creates this magic’.

Artists examine the dystopic situation of displaced persons and shifting, unstable environments as cities mutate and homes are lost

Ahmed Mater’s Leaves Fall in All Seasons similarly chronicles mass construction in his Gulf home city of Mecca. He uses cellphone footage taken by migrant labourers, who are themselves many miles from their home and families.

Manal Al Dowayan’s Tree of Guardians is an installation of 2000 brass leaves, each leaf representing a female member of the families of women who took part in workshops the artist led across Saudi Arabia. Traditionally Arabic family trees only include the male line, this artwork attempts to preserve and document forgotten generations of women who have been the homemakers, guardians and custodians of culture, ethics and ideals in society throughout history. 

There is one series of works, however, which stand out and come closest to answering the question. Hamra Abbas’ larger-than-life nude life drawings strip away everything but the essence of the human form – perhaps all home needs to be.