Critics Pick: Samira Yamin

Arforum / Jan 19, 2013 / by Carmen Winant / Go to Original

Samira Yamin
Bergamot Station G1, 2525 Michigan Avenue
January 19, 2013–April 20, 2013

For her first solo museum exhibition, Samira Yamin has revisited President Bush’s portentous phrase, “We will not fail,” from his congressional address given in the wake of 9/11. For the past three years, the artist has been working on her “Geometries” series, which for this exhibition includes October 1, 2001, 2013, a piece created with an issue of TIME magazine that dates a few weeks after the attacks, dedicating all of its news coverage to the perpetrator and America’s new target, Osama bin Laden. In a similarly devoted study, Yamin has laboriously cut sacred and ornamental Islamic geometries into each page of the magazine, a task that took her six months to complete.

A matrix of interlaced circles, multisided polygons, and stars are incised out of photographs that capture American soldiers patrolling Afghan streets, Arab insurgents peeking through remote windows, and Middle Eastern civilians huddling in their homes. The girih patterning, traditionally used to adorn the tiles and walls of monumental Islamic architecture, is so dense and intricate that at times the photographs beneath it become practically unrecognizable. This is no accident: Yamin’s objects provoke an unresolved mediation between Western and Islamic systems of reason and order by forming literal “gaps” in our visual understanding.

These cogent ideas are abundantly evident in the present work. Yamin was careful not to lacerate the articles’ text, reserving her efforts only for images and headlines, perhaps to contend that photographic journalism is the most potent and easily manipulated tool of warfare reportage. By displaying the piece open at an angle on the gallery’s back wall in a Plexiglas case that is backed by a mirror, Yamin makes her manipulations visible from various vantages, unlike those seen through a single aperture.