“It’s too much to handle” was the first thing I heard when I walked in to Project Room 2 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Three young girls were staring in amazement at the painfully meticulous works by Samira Yamin on display. Impressed, inspired, and overwhelmed, the reactions of these girls to the art told me I was in for something good. Consisting of five pieces hanging quietly in the museum’s most intimate gallery, tucked away in a corner near the entry, is Yamin’s debut exhibition We Will Not Fail.
The tone and subject matter is immediately set when visitors enter and are confronted with the face of Osama Bin Laden on the cover of TIME Magazine. The October 2001 issue of the periodical, which focuses entirely on the War on Terror, serves not only as the content of the show, but as the medium of the works themselves. Yamin has taken pages from the magazine and created cutouts that overlay beautiful geometric patterns on the striking images from the pages. It is a harmonious combination of decorative arts and politics which seems to fall somewhere between aesthetically pleasing and conceptually intriguing. But most of all there is the clear sense that a lot of time, effort, and care went into making these works.
Like any good use of appropriation, Yamin transforms the pages into something that is not quite an printed image on a page and not quite latticework. The end result is in abstraction that is uniquely her own creation. The words become illegible and even the images are difficult to decipher, though it is easier from afar. The larger text remains readable: “We Will Not Fail”, “Life on the Home Front”, and “ever, just America’s fight”. Here we have information being obstructed and purposefully left out. Yamin inserts instead her geometric patterns which represent the “underlying and infinite structure of the universe”, and in doing so is able to bring a different perspective to these images.
But why TIME Magazine and not just straight images of war? Yamin is interested in the “terrorism narrative”. The journalists who cover the events feed us this information through the media, but does it leave room for other interpretations? The collective conscious is shaped by those with the power to disseminate such information, creating the cultural attitudes that permeate our lives. How is someone to interpret the experiences of a foreign culture, and can two separate experiences be comprehended by a single person? The two perspectives are brought together in these works, as the artist has given us a “lens” for viewing these images. Islamic traditions and American views on terror now share not only space and context, but are literally “cut from the same cloth”.
Words and images by Noé Gaytán