Zeinab Saleh – Softest place (on earth)
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Zeinab Saleh (b. 1996, Nairobi, Kenya) is a London-based artist whose interdisciplinary 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 presents a new body of work made over the past year that meditates on the condition of stillness imposed by the pandemic. As layers of charcoal are removed from the canvases, forms and figures are 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 – emerge like apparitions in the shrouded atmosphere of a dream or memory.
A new series of drawings in the exhibition reveals 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 has 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 references 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 uncovers stories and transient memories within the home and family archive and connects 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 is 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.
This film was produced by Jared Schiller for Camden Art Centre on the occasion of Zeinab Saleh: Softest place (on earth)
Installation view of Zeinab Saleh, Softest Place (on earth), 2021. Image: Rob Harris
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)
Generously supported by Ben Rawlingson-Plant and by Metroland Cultures in partnership with Brent Council, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.