الفكرة ذكرى / A thought is a memory is a group exhibition curated by Noel Maghathe that brings together works by four artists: Zeinab Saab, Kiki Salem, Nailah Taman, and Zeina Zeitoun. These artists, who all have lineages that trace to the so-called Arab world, draw upon their varied backgrounds in ways that both celebrate and subvert inherited identities. Through sculpture, photography, collage, animation, and painting, they embrace playful ways of making that are highly personal, often collective, and that position fluidity and rootedness as complementary rather than opposing forces in the building of selfhood, community, and culture.
Memories often serve as the source material for our personal and shared histories. The late philosopher and artist Etel Adnan, in her 2016 collection of prose and poetry, Night, wrote: “Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think; it’s thinking, before thinking.”
A thought is a memory asks us to consider: what happens when memories are disrupted by displacement, migration, and political upheaval? What does it mean to be both grounded by and freed from the stories of our ancestors? Through explorations of geometry, color, light, and material, the four artists in the exhibition present works that reimagine their hybridity as Arab Americans.
Zeinab Saab’s paintings indulge in experimentations with color, opening up portals to aspects of their young self which may have been lost while navigating constructs of gender, patriarchy, and tradition. Kiki Salem’s digital animations evoke patterns from textiles designed by her/their ancestors in Palestine and motifs from the architecture they inhabited, using new technologies to reconfigure material traditions. Nailah Taman’s sculptural works visualize symbols from Etel Adnan’s The Arab Apocalypse, attempting to connect to an otherworldly “un-language” and access its shared knowledge. Taman’s textile piece transforms an unfinished tablecloth embroidered by their taeta (grandmother) into a shelter, threading together practices of their elders with discarded materials that encapsulate a queerness they weren’t able to share. Zeina Zeitoun uses collage and film to piece together images from her visits to Lebanon, grasping for fragments of seemingly ephemeral memories and re-organizing them to construct moments she can savor beyond time.
The works presented in A thought is a memory weave together ephemeral and kaleidoscopic stories. These four artists layer experiences that are simultaneously personal, familial, communal, and political, and that are often eschewed in mainstream discourse about place—or viewed through a lens that ascribes fixed narratives to mutable notions of identity and community. Through their work, they proudly claim new spaces, rituals, and language that transcend boundaries of time and geography. “If I didn’t remember that I am, I won’t be,” wrote Etel Adnan. “Reason and memory move together.”