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An artwork displaying an individual wearing beige coloured clothing while being surrounded by other beige coloured cloths and a curtain in the background.

Rihab Essayh: أحلم بواحة ناعمة (Je rêve d’une douce oasis | I dream of a soft oasis)

More interested in building worlds than building installations, Rihab Essayh’s tactile and immersive environments emerge from her efforts to support the conditions for “radical softness” – an idea that suggests that showing emotions and vulnerability is a political gesture in a society that prioritizes intellect and indifference. Evoking the topography of an oasis surrounded by a diaphanous sunset of cotton voile, the Moroccan-born artist layers elements based on their materiality – from her subtle drawings on paper and poems on fibre suspended before and beyond the horizon, to the projected light on fabric and sound that vibrates in the space.

This layering is paralleled in the perspectives she incorporates in her work. Collaborative in impulse, Essayh engages diverse Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) voices in the making of her work, decentring colonial, Eurocentric and Orientalist perspectives. The lightness and delicacy that is the cumulative effect of the constructed landscape speak to her vision of a soft futurism based on principles of empathy, belonging, and care, particularly important in the context of the pandemic and its drastic social and emotional impacts.

Image details: Rihab Essayh, The hymn of the warriors of love, 2022, video: 10:12 mins. Image courtesy of the artist.

University of Guelph School of Fine Art and Music logo

This exhibition represents the culmination of two years of focused work in the University of Guelph’s Master of Fine Arts program. The Art Gallery of Guelph’s annual exhibition of a graduating MFA student is presented in conjunction with the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph.

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