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11 Oct 2011

Hamra Abbas: 'Cities' at Green Cardamom, London

Hamra Abbas
God Grows on Trees, 2008
Diasec C-print
90 x 120 cm

Hamra Abbas: Cities
Green Cardamom


Hamra Abbas: Cities 9 September - 21 October Tuesday - Friday 12pm - 6pm Or by appointment

Liza Kenrick
+44 (0)207 402 7125

Green Cardamom
5a Porchester Place
London W2 2BS

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Hamra Abbas was born in Kuwait City (to Pakistani parents). She grew up in Lahore, was educated in Lahore and Berlin, and now lives between Boston and Islamabad. In a peripatetic artistic career, through the art world vehicles of residencies, long-term projects and exhibitions, Abbas has also lived and worked in Istanbul, London, New York, Sharjah and Thessaloniki.

In Cities, her first solo exhibition in London since 2008, Abbas looks back at her own relationship with notions of 'place'. Combining old works with new; paintings with sculpture, video and installations; Cities sees Abbas using a diverse range of artistic languages to explore how religion, sexuality, fear and power (both political and economic) underpin her quasi-nomadic, outside-in relationships with the cities in which she has lived.

In Cityscapes 1 (2010) – she digitally removes the minarets from a seemingly ordinary collection of photographs of Istanbul. The work functions in one register as a response to the recent minaret controversy in Germany and Switzerland, where several cities have called for bans on minarets. But in another, it questions the very history of Istanbul's 'historic' minarets in the first place. (They were famously added on to an Orthodox church in the case of the Hagia Sophia.) For Abbas, minarets are the 'memory organs that allow the city to recognize itself at each sunrise.'

Cityscapes 3
(2011) takes the form of life cast heads of Peter, Pete, Tomi, Kleber and Terry – the post man, the man behind the deli counter, the construction worker, the janitor: people that Hamra encountered on a daily basis during her 2010 residency in New York. Paradise Bath (2009) is a set of nine photographic prints that record the outcome of a performance in Thessaloniki, Greece where she gives a local woman a 'Turkish bath' at Bey Hammam (literally Paradise Bath), a symbol of the city's Muslim past in the city centre. Both these works engage with issues of race, power, dreams, and memory while referencing everyday activities – most dramatically the ritual of cleansing.

Other works in the exhibition include: Love Yourself (2009), an installation of brightly coloured vibrating mini-fighters, bombs, missiles and bullets inspired by sex toys manufactured by the wonderfully named German company Fun Factory in Bremen, and given extra resonance by being displayed in a rifle case; a small selection of portraits from God Grows on Trees (2008) – a major work comprising 99 individual gouache portraits of children in madrassahs in and around Islamabad, juxtaposed with a digital photograph of trees along a road in Lahore, that are nailed with metal plates which reproduce the 99 names or attributes of God in Islamic tradition; Moma is the Star (2004) a video on the cultural import of New York's MoMA – when its collection was briefly on display in Berlin; and TextEdit (2011), a new video animation that muses on how the politics of fear seep into the everyday usage of language. By appropriating culturally loaded imagery and iconography and transforming these into works that can be experienced spatially and temporally, she creates new platforms from which to view notions of cultural ownership, tradition and exchange.

Hamra Abbas (b. 1976) received a BFA and MA in Visual Arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore and Meisterschueler from Universitaet der Kuenste, Berlin. Abbas is one of the five winners of the 2011 Abraaj Capital Art Prize; she was also an artist in residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston during 2011. Abbas was awarded a Jury Prize at the Sharjah Biennial (2009) and was a finalist for the inaugural Jameel Prize (2009) awarded by the V&A, London. Her work has been included in the International Artist's Workshop of the Thessaloniki Biennial in Greece (2009), International Incheon Women Artists Biennale in Korea (2009), Guangzou Triennial (2008), Istanbul Biennial (2007), Biennale of Sydney (2006) and the Cetinje Biennial (2004). Abbas' work has been exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, ARTIUM de ?lava, Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain, ifa Gallery in Berlin, Manchester Art Gallery in the UK, Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Asia Society Museum in New York, Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute, REDCAT, Los Angeles and the Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena in the US.

Green Cardamom is an arts organization that develops and runs visual arts projects in collaboration with public museums and galleries. The organisation works on a not-for-profit basis and is supported by the Rangoonwala Foundation. Green Cardamom runs a regular gallery programme in its London space, where it also develops new curatorial projects. The organisation's primary focus is international contemporary art viewed from an Indian Ocean perspective. Green Cardamom's programme is informed by artistic practice in Pakistan, South and Central Asia and the Middle East.