Softest place (on earth) - Camden Art Centre

Zeinab Saleh is a London-based artist whose inter-disciplinary practice encompasses painting, drawing and video.

Finding inspiration in everyday experiences, music and VHS tapes of home video footage, Saleh’s work offers a glimpse into a past world and places personal histories at its core.

For her first solo exhibition, Saleh presented a new body of work made over 2020 that meditated on the condition of stillness imposed by the pandemic. As layers of charcoal were removed from the canvases, forms and figures were revealed in the depth of field that lies behind masked areas. Conjured in muted colours and fluid lines and forms, Saleh’s subjects – which include apparently symbolic animals, from cats to snakes to swans, and the vegetal arabesques traced by leaves and tendrils – emerged like apparitions in the shrouded atmosphere of a dream or memory.

A new series of drawings in the exhibition revealed a different process – in contrast to the paintings in which image and form emerge through the removal of layered charcoal and pigment, in these smaller works on paper, Saleh laid down marks with deliberate gestures in charcoal, pencil and paint. The edges between things are distinct and the compositions move rhythmically across the page.

The exhibition’s title referenced a tenderness in the subjects depicted, as well as the textural softness of the charcoal used to evoke them and the diffuse mood of the moments captured. In an emotive process of discovery and rediscovery, Saleh uncovered stories and transient memories within the home and family archive and connected these personal fragments with the collective experience of others, finding the particular within the universal.

Saleh’s studio-based practice is intimately intertwined with a community-building element; she co-founded Muslim Sisterhood – an artistic collective working within photography, fashion, publishing and events to create an inclusive community that centres Muslim women.

Saleh was one of two artists resident at Metroland Studio in Kilburn, as part of a new partnership between Camden Art Centre and Metroland Cultures – the charity established to deliver Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture and its legacy beyond 2020.

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The Artist

Zeinab Saleh (b.1996, Kenya) lives and works in London. She received her BFA from Slade School of Fine Art in 2019. Recent group exhibitions include Nour el Ain, Karma International, Switzerland (2021), After Image, MAMOTH, London (2020), Zeinab Saleh and Yuko Mohri, mother’s tankstation, London (2020), The Poetics of the Neighbourhood Rascals, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam (2019), A patch of green in London, Cookhouse Gallery, London (2019). The Age of New Babylon, Lethaby Gallery, London (2018). Redress, UCL Art Museum, London (2018), Widening the Gaze, Slade Research Centre, London (2018).

This film was produced by Jared Schiller for Camden Art Centre on the occasion of Zeinab Saleh: Softest place (on earth), 10 September - 23 December 2021.

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