Yasmina Alaoui is a truly international artist. Of French and Moroccan descent, Alaoui was born in the United States, studied in Paris, and lives in New York. Her globetrotting combined with her multicultural heritage allows Alaoui a profoundly broad perspective, and it’s that worldliness that makes her work not only fascinating but also utterly unique.
Known to create complex and intricate works employing a wide variety of techniques, the underlying theme of most of Alaoui’s works deal directly with the experiences of her multicultural upbringing and aim at bridging extremes by embracing opposites: secular and holy, classical and contemporary, order and chaos, repulsion and attraction.
Alaoui’s new solo exhibition Sediments will open at Opera Gallery in New York this September. Her fourth show with Opera Gallery, the showcase will feature 20 large-scale, hitherto unseen works. Of particular note is the selection of new abstract compositions, which feature two, superimposed layers.
The works are often underpinned by intricate Islamic sacred geometry, buried, dissolved or destroyed by the physical texture of found organic or man made materials such as salt, gravel, ash, kohl, pigment, paint, plaster, and broken ceramics.
By integrating different elements and materials, Alaoui’s works evoke a sense of mysticism and spirituality. Open to multiple readings and interpretations—one fragile and delicate, the other more forceful and violent—the absorbing artworks are a revealing portrait of Alaoui herself, and the world she lives in.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Yasmina about her artwork and her upcoming show at Opera Gallery:
Is each work unique, or is there a connective thread running through the collection?
The new installation continues to explore my bi-cultural upbringing; bridging extremes while embracing opposites. My diverse background is especially accentuated in my recent abstract compositions, in which two layers are superimposed.
Are the works all derived from your own experiences, or is there a broader narrative at play?
My mixed cultural background definitely plays a consistent role in my creations. These works pin spirituality against reality, and thus become open to dual readings; one fragile and delicate, the other more forceful and violent. This show really portrays my self-portrait and the world I live in, but I want each viewer to have their own interpretation of my work. That’s why I even avoid giving titles to my work.
What’s the significance of your usage of the found organic and man made materials? And how have you incorporated them into the works?
The works are often underpinned by intricate Islamic sacred geometry buried, dissolved or destroyed by the physical texture of found organic and man made materials such as salt, gravel, ash, kohl, pigment, paint, plaster, broken ceramics. Through the integration of these different elements and dimensions, my pieces evoke mysticism alongside base reality.
When did you realise you would become an artist?
Sculptures were my original artistic beginning—I started sculpting at the age of six. I also studied Fine Arts at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris and received a B.A. in Sculpture from the College of William and Mary.
How do you explore your culture and heritage in your art practice?
Coming from a Moroccan and French descent, the underlying themes behind my works directly deal with experiences from my childhood and aim to bridge extremes and embracing opposites. Secular and holy, classical and contemporary, order and chaos, and repulsion and attraction, etcetera. I enjoy creating complex and intricate visual works using a variety of techniques that I combine in an authentic manner.
How long was this new body of work in the making?
I started working on this project 5 years ago, and I have been working on this particular exhibit for 2 years.
It seems each piece has a very distinct palette, in a way that feels almost thematic. Why is that, and how would you describe your relationship with colour?
Each colour expresses a different mood. Some colours also have literal meaning.
The tuareg indigo is, for example, a re-appropriation of a long cultural Moroccan tradition which has been credited to names such as Yves Klein or Majorelle.
The Grey pieces are made entirely of khol, which is used traditionally as makeup, cleansing and spiritual protection.
You work in a wide variety of styles. This collection is mostly abstract, but previously you’ve worked on some stunning series’ of photography. How do you shift from one mode to another? Can you work on different works in different styles at the same time, or do they exist in different mind spaces?
The essence and themes are constant, my interests in multicultural identity, science, attention to detail are always present. But I do not like to repeat myself and like to explore new mediums and artistic genres.
I have a nomadic lifestyle and work with the elements that each location offers. I like to be free to communicate an idea or concept with any medium available.
You’re of French and Moroccan descent and were born in the United States. Has having those connections to several very different political atmospheres impacted, influenced or affected your process, or these works, in any way?
Yes, and I am extremely thankful for this. This multicultural upbringing impacts every decision I make, both in my work and my life. It opens up diverse views and perspectives to any situation.
You’re a woman artist in what is ultimately still a very male-dominated field, at least in terms of representation. Does that motivate you? Or is it more a source of frustration?
Neither. As much as I am aware of the discrepancy, I do not let it affect my work. I want my focuses and interests to go beyond gender.
What are you working on next?
I am focusing on large scale sculptures, and multi medium installations (video, sound, performance) focusing on exploring further my cultures and looking at how they evolve through time.
Many thanks to Yasmina for taking the time to chat with us.
Yasmina Alaoui’s Sediments opens at Opera Gallery’s New York location on September 12th and will run until September 26th.
Opera Gallery New York is located at 791 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10065.
You can find more information about Yasmina Alaoui and her artwork at her website.
For more information about Opera Gallery, the exhibition and opening hours, visit operagallery.com.