Lawrie Shabibi is pleased to present “Inside the Fire Circle” Mounir Fatmi’s first solo exhibition in Dubai. The exhibition expands on the artist’s interest in the circle, its form and symbolic meaning throughout history. In particular, Fatmi examines the life of John Howard Griffin (1920 –1980), an American activist, journalist and author from Texas, who wrote about racial equality and was known for his fight against racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement. These two seemingly opposing themes connect through Fatmi’s interest in the idea of repetition, erasure, movement, and the tendency of history to repeat itself.
As stated by art critic Lillian Davies in Fatmi’s monograph Suspect Language “Fatmi’s use of the circle marks a symbolic refutation of linearity.” At the center of the exhibition is Inside the Fire Circle a new sculptural installation from which the exhibition takes its name. Consisting of a configuration of jumper cables that spill out from a set of obsolete typewriters, their ends clipped to sheets of plain white paper, the installation reveals itself as a palimpsest of history, repeating itself over and over again. Other works in the show referencing the circle include wall sculptures produced from white coaxial cable. Encased in glass boxes, the cables have been intricately manipulated into repeating circles, creating a sense of addition and subtraction – or infinity. This examination of the circle recurs regularly in Fatmi’s practice such as in his work Modern Times, A History of the Machine, his series of looped videos such as Technologia, and a body of work entitled, Kissing Precise. Several works in the exhibition use images from the John Howard Griffin Archive (to which Fatmi had been granted access thanks to Roberto Bonazzi) with a focus on an experiment in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Griffin underwent a series of UV treatments and took various medications to turn his skin black. In this project he was temporarily able to pass as a black man and journey through the Deep South of 1959 to see life and segregation. He published his experiences in his book “Black Like Me” outlining the hardship, the discrimination and rejection that he faced. A series of 10 photographs entitled, As A Black Man, consists of a portrait of Griffin, each image printed to create a gradation from white to gray to black. In another set of black and white photographs entitled Crossing the Line, the images depict the lower part of a man’s legs as he steps over a white line on a street. This brief moment of an everyday movement considers the notion of crossing over into something else: from white to black, light to dark, privilege to outcast. In another image Fatmi presents a still image from the only existing archive of an interview Griffin had with legendary American newscaster, Mike Wallace. The discomfort felt by Wallace as he interviews this eccentric figure is visible. Also on view will be a set of three photographs entitled Calligraphy of Fire, and a film, History is not Mine, which explore Fatmi’s interest in language, knowledge and its destruction. Mounir Fatmi would like to thank Roberto Bonazzi, who protects and maintains the John Howard Griffin archive, for his support and assistance to make this project possible.
In addition, Mounir Fatmi would like to thank Don Rutledge for documenting the incredible experience of John Howard Griffin. All of the photo montages in the exhibition are inspired by his photographs of Griffin.