Mohammed Sami

with Wells Fray-Smith

‘Memories in my work tend to be about something curious and strange. Memories masquerade in banal everyday objects, light and shadow.’

Listen to full interview here:

My name is Mohammed Sami, I am an Iraqi-born, London-based painter. Painting is my primary medium since I believe this medium has the capacity to grasp what is not represented in the artwork.

My work often speaks about memory, but more precisely, they are about oblivion, when oblivion prompts remembering after a period of time. Therefore, the effect of these memories in my artworks are often possessed by banal everyday objects, light and shadow. My paintings speak to the past and conflict, but therefore appear to be about something else.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

I am showing two recent paintings. The first, House of Tears (2022), aims to confuse the viewers and make them unsure if they are looking through the inside or outside of an internal space (like many of my paintings). The painting depicts a large window with drops of water falling from the ceiling. These function, perhaps, as an index of the house’s leaking roof, but also reference a failed memory of the past images that turns the leaks into large tears, in reference to Alice in Wonderland.

The second painting, Sunset (2021), uses ordinary subject matter and the title again confuses the viewer, asking them to question what they are seeing in the picture and what the title tells them they are seeing (a sunset). I use this slippage between image and title to convey my conceptual approach to belated memories or belated responses to memory. The painting depicts trunks of palm trees struck by the heavy light of sunset. There is a strong burning sensation present, but you can’t work out, where precisely in the painting it originates.

The scale of my paintings is an essential element in my practice. The size decides itself according to the narrative of the painting. Some paintings are large, like the paintings I’m showing in The London Open because they need to be human sized for us to understand their impact. Other narratives cut themselves into small paintings to prevent the viewer from understanding them in their entirety.

My background as an Iraqi-born artist occupies a large portion of my career, which means the other part of the painting should elude from any direct signifiers to satisfy contemporary painting’s limits. Therefore, I apply linguistic signifiers like the index, metonymy, allegory and euphemism to give an alternative reading to the past, conflict and memory, and to challenge explicit, traumatic image stereotypes.

Works in the exhibition:
House of Tears, 2022
Acrylic on linen
290 x 345 cm
Courtesy Stuart Shave/ Modern Art, London

Sunset, 2021
Mixed media on linen 245 x 290 cm
Blenheim Art Foundation

Mohammed Sami (1984, Baghdad, Iraq)
2018 BA Fine Art, Goldsmiths College, University of London
2016 BA Fine Art, Ulster University, Belfast
2004 Higher Diploma in Painting & Drawing, the Institute of Fine Arts, Baghdad

Selected exhibitions: Mohammed Sami, Modern Art, London (solo) (2022); Necessity, Gallery Magnus Karlsson, Stockholm (2022); Still Alive, Aichi Triennale, Aichi Arts Centre, Japan (2022); Mixing it up: Painting Today, Hayward Gallery, London (2021); The Sea is the Limited, York Museum, travelling to Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Doha (2019); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, South London Gallery, London (2018); Liverpool Biennial (2018); The Culture Night of Norrköping City, Norrköping Art Museum, Sweden (2011); Autumn Salon, Paris (2010)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.