Today’s post presents Zakaria Ramhani’s New York debut and the first exhibition of a new Lower East Side gallery. Julie Meneret Contemporary Art is pleased to announce May Allah Forgive Me, Vol. 1 and 2, a two-part solo show opening November 6.
Ramhani is a Moroccan painter whose large-scale portraits use Arabic calligraphy as a formal gesture. The paradox at the core of Ramhani’s work is the tradition of aniconism in Islam. His fascination with portraiture is at odds with the practice of Islamic calligraphy, which has long been a venerated art form for representing the divine. Ramhani grew up in a Muslim society and in an artistic household; his father was a landscape painter who avoided portraying the human figure for religious reasons. He occasionally had to paint commissioned portraits and explained to his son that he would ask God’s forgiveness. May Allah Forgive Me refers to a sense of guilt that haunts both the artist and his paintings. Each person who reads this title is uttering a prayer, one of the most potent linguistic constructions.
Inspired by recent political activism in Egypt and the Middle East, Ramhani has caused controversy by questioning religious tradition and denouncing violence. Authorities at Art Dubai last year censored Ramhani’s You Were My Only Love for its depiction of police brutality in Tahrir Square. Ramhani altered the famous image of the “blue bra woman,” who became a symbol of Egyptian protest against extreme military power, showing her struggling against gorillas as Van Gogh looks on disapprovingly.
For this exhibition, Ramhani continues to provoke thought by altering well-known media imagery. His series of famous dictators in a state of childhood anonymity points to a kind of impossibility of obtaining truth through representation—who can tell from their young portraits what kind of men these boys become? His paintings are also deeply personal, meditating on the ways that language impacts configurations of the artist’s own identity. What can be conveyed about subjectivity hovers between text and image, between the system of language and the individual’s dream of a cohesive self.
Zakaria Ramhani launched his professional career in 2006, when he became the youngest Moroccan citizen to be awarded a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Since then he has exhibited throughout Europe and the Middle East, including at The Barbican Centre London, Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, The British Museum at the DIFC Dubai, and The Cairo Biennial.
Please visit Julie Meneret Contemporary Art for additional information
Photography by Mark Woods, Courtesy of Julie Meneret Contemporary Art and Zakaria Ramhani