Basma Alsharif @ Mosaic Rooms

We are sick with an illness that cannot be cured

If only I can alleviate the pain

That I have myself created in you

A pain that only you can relieve me of

So that we will never be free

Basma Alsharif’s trio of film installations at the Mosaic Rooms is a delicate and sensual exploration of history, subjectivity and conflict. Layering text on top of faded video recordings in near and far locations, Alsharif manipulates our notions of the expected. At the centre of the exhibition – titled The Gap Between Us – a new feature length film, Ouroboros, 2017, bedazzles the viewer in its first screening in a gallery context.

It would have been too dark

Too dark altogether

It is not just the visuals in the films that captivate, but also the addition of text. While the characters do speak at times, much of the dialogue on screen is often unsaid. It is what is written on top of the image that captures the attention. Every so often one, sometimes two figures appear in an unidentifiable location. They are often silent, but this quietness is punctuated by the addition of a couple of lines of poetic, emotional text. In Ouroboros we see a man and a woman facing each other in silence. They are outside, somewhere hot and dry. There are barely any trees and the white paint on the façade of the building they are standing in front of is cracking under the heat. All is still. Tension can be felt in the air. The woman turns away from the man and walks inside. He follows. The camera also trails the pair of them. Inside, the woman sits at a table, reading allowed from a book.

Stopped dead short by an exulting cry

By the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain

The relationship between the couple is difficult to define. There is some kind of tension, be it romantic or otherwise. Outside she was wearing a sleeveless top, but now she is wearing a white sweater, playing the role of the innocent and sweet girl next door. She sits at a table, reading out loud. Transported away from the warm landscape, she now sits in a library surrounded by shelves full to the brim with books. There is an obvious depth to her, but we can’t quite make out what secrets she knows. She is blonde, and clothed in white – she gives off a sense of lightness – while her male companion, seems darker, with his shaved head, pacing backwards and forwards, he is sinister, looking over at her while she is reading, playing he role of the voyeur. Then all of a sudden he speaks. Not in English, like the woman, but in Italian.

I knew it I was sure

She knew it she was sure

He asks her to take a card. To memorize it. He is playing a magic trick. He shuffles the cards and attempts to present the girl with the card she picked. Once: no, it’s wrong. Twice: wrong. Three times: incorrect again. Fourth attempt: wrong, wrong, six times wrong.

I heard her weeping

She had hidden her face in her hands

It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape

That the heavens would fall upon my head

But nothing happened

The film is a mystery. Besides the confusing relationship between the reader and the magician, there are a number of other vague narratives that intertwine within one another. The film moves from a warm climate filled with palm trees – probably somewhere on the Mediterranean – to the library and then also to another green landscape that looks like the English countryside. Here there is a country house, rich and decadent. And, while the film poses many questions and reveals few answers, somehow, it manages to have a calming effect on the viewer. Yet, in this sense of false security, the film is actually an allegory that reflects on an endless cycle of destruction and renewal, mirroring the artists own personal roots in Palestine. With the inclusion of gentle, almost romantic music, we are transported through dreamlike sequences to woods in the soft shades of spring, along lush tree-lined roads. The chopping and changing in location is a reflection on Alsharif’s own experiences, who defines her work as having “a non-geographically based subjective viewpoint”, having worked between Chicago, Cairo, Beirut, Sharjah, Amman, the Gaza Strip, Paris and Los Angeles.

Basma_Alsharif_high noon A Stagg
High Noon, Basma Alsharif, 2014, video still. Image by Andy Stagg, courtesy The Mosaic Rooms.

In addition to the spellbinding Ouroboros there are two other films: We Began By Measuring Distance, 2009 and High Noon, 2014. In the Mosaic Rooms basement gallery High Noon appears like a nightclub installation. Amongst a room submerged in darkness are multiple screens in which scenes chop and change between bright flowery landscapes, which comprise saturated images of California and Japan. Witnessing the films is a psychedelic experience as the bright colours flash along to an electro and low fi soundtrack. The vivid heat that radiates from High Noon emits a completely different vibe to the one given off in We Began By Measuring Distance. Where the ‘noon’ is warm, in the ‘distance’, Alsharif transports us to a much colder climate. The tones that tint the screen are pale and blue. It is as if the viewer has been transported to a different world, perhaps in the arctic, where there is little or no life, apart from a cluster of trees grouped together amongst the frost.

Alsharif’s films span multiple time zones and locations, taking the audience on a cross-cultural journey that offers an alternative perspective into the world we live in. With the addition of text that appears like riddles and music scores that would feel at home in a nightclub setting, the alluring films make for an unforgettable gallery experience.

Basma Alsharif: The Gap Between Us is on display at Mosaic Rooms, 226 Cromwell Road, London, SW5 0SW, until 31st March 2018

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy recently curated Perpetual Movement as part of Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018 in London, which was featured in Vogue Arabia and The Art Newspaper.

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