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'Sara Shamma: Modern Slavery' Review - Bush House Arcade

1st October - 22nd November 2019

FREE Entry


Sarah Shamma’s exploration of the sale and exploitation of girls in Syria and Iraq is an exhibition definitely worth visiting. The London-based Syrian artist aims to lift the wool off our eyes in order to make us clearly see the abuse that continues—this relates cleverly to her collection of line drawings with detailed eyes. Shamma’s style is exemplified by

rough brush strokes combined with intricate detail and warm colours.

Hiding in Plain Sight (All images courtesy of Shreya Sharma)

The theme of eyes was something of particular prominence within her painting. The conception that eyes are the windows to the soul reigned true and gave her collection a clear purpose. The faces and bodies of women next to other women, or at times simply their reflection, riddled her work, yet the eyes in all paintings remained detailed and realistic. This could be interpreted as Shamma’s understanding of the human experience and pain being captured in one’s eyes, or even a plea for the viewer to connect with the women to grow greater consciousness of the issue at hand. As Dr Oram comments, “many trafficked women report mental distress many months or years after regaining freedom”. From looking at Shamma’s paintings it seems the way she felt to capture that distress and loneliness was a particular focus on the eyes.

Double Motherhood

In addition to this, Shamma’s collection of line drawings, with only the eyes detailed, could be interpreted to represent the eyes of a perpetrator, invoking a sinister and evil atmosphere. This is reinforced as the line drawings of the faces themselves physically looked hard compared to the scared and soft painted faces of the mothers and children in her work. Again, a comment is to be made on the incredibly thoughtful collection Shamma has created.

Although Shamma proudly uses her encounters and “draws inspiration from the world around [her]”, the women in her art were not from any defined country, despite her Syrian influence. In fact, the images were often women painted with warm red tones, or opposing cold green shades. This gave the art a sense of the supernatural but equally made it feel universal. The exclusion of race in her work draws on the modern slavery which affects to up to 40 million women worldwide.

The Fall

Although at an initial glance the theme of Shamma's work may not be obvious, the skill and beauty of each piece is undeniable. Shamma has clearly harnessed her distinct style through the unique combination of realism and supernatural in her art. The collection itself is incredibly well delivered with the amalgamation of pieces showcasing modern slavery. It is undeniably worth a visit!

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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