For May I 2020, Mandy El-Sayegh has created seven “Piece” paintings―multilayered works juxtaposing silkscreen, collage, and painting with disparate fragments of text, found imagery, and the artist’s own gestures, inviting multiple readings and reflections on how we absorb and interpret meaning.
El-Sayegh’s highly process-driven practice is rooted in an exploration of material, aesthetics, and language. Executed in a wide variety of media ranging from densely layered paintings to sculpture, installation, works on paper, and video, El-Sayegh’s work investigates the formation and dissolution of systems of order, be they bodily, linguistic, or political.
Working intuitively with a strong sense of aesthetics, El-Sayegh begins each painting with found fragments, which constitute the “parts” she brings together to offer an analytical look at present-day political structures, social systems, and pop-culture―as well as how these overlap and diverge.
Both the title of this presentation and the works themselves offer insight into El-Sayegh’s forensic dissection of symbols and words―and the ways in which they often lack inherent meaning.
May I 2020, refers to the title of a work in this presentation and is also a reference to El-Sayegh’s repeated use of images of Theresa May, as well as the popular BBC One and HBO TV series I May Destroy You, written, co-directed, produced, and acted by Michaela Coel.
May I 2020 is both a recognition of the significant cultural impact of the women depicted within our broader social landscape (in what El-Sayegh refers to as solidarity appropriation), and a radical disidentification with Theresa May and her hostile treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers. As a whole, the works in this presentation illustrate El-Sayegh’s implicit assertion of the violence inherent in binary structures―a theme that pervades the artist’s practice.
“Co-Occuring is another cut up diptych that was initially one piece. I was thinking about cells splitting as we grow and about cell replication. Those two scribbles―which are silkscreens under the anatomical painting―are from an archive of early personal drawings. The text is taken from a British headline that says ‘WE’RE TOO OLD AND WHITE TO WIN,’ which is about party politics propaganda. So you are just getting ‘WE’RE TOO’ on one side [of the painting], which I really liked. At the time, I was thinking about the virus, how the scribbles look like a virus and the scramble of DNA.
You can kind of see the logic a bit more in the way I posted it [on Instagram] when I first went into lockdown. This kind of meme logic is how ideas replicate and associations are made depending on the time they are birthed. At the time I was watching Outbreak, and was thinking about my research on virology, which reminded me of the scribbles, which led me to thinking about the anatomy book I have and the colors of the illustrations. This sort of sequential process is very much how my brain works.”
— Mandy El-Sayegh
This series features fragments of both personal and more general ephemera that includes images from Kylie Jenner’s Instagram, Theresa May on a foreign affairs visit in India, 1980s softcore pornography, pages from women’s magazines, the Financial Times, and British populist newspapers, Arabic calligraphy penned by El-Sayegh’s father, and anatomical studies.
El-Sayegh collages these and other components together, subsequently obscuring or adding elements to the resulting combination of found material by drawing and painting directly onto the works. In the process, she embraces this disparate array of signifiers, revealing the implicit constructions embedded within our systems of language and thought and challenging our assumptions about the world around us.
Mandy El-Sayegh’s (b. 1985, Malaysia, lives and works in London, United Kingdom) highly process-driven practice is rooted in an exploration of material and language. Executed in a wide range of media, including densely layered paintings, sculpture, installation, diagrams, and sound and video, El-Sayegh’s work investigates the formation and break-down of systems of order, be they bodily, linguistic, or political. She is particularly interested in exploring the Part-Whole relationship–how something significant yet unpremeditated emerges and comes into being through various smaller, micro-interactions or repetitions. She physically demonstrates this by collaging disparate fragments, text, and found imagery, and layering them with materials like latex, rubber, and clay that mimic organic matter. Through simple, repetitive patterns such as a hand-painted grid or geometric molds, formal and narrative synthesis occurs that is not consciously intended or anticipated.
Click here to read El-Sayegh’s full biography.