Medina Hammad: Sudanese Stories

Ever since Medina Hammad was able to break free of the constraints of her art school education, she has, within her work, concerned herself with issues centred on the complexities of her identity. Looking at her work, both her most recent paintings, exhibited here, and her work produced over the past ten years or so, we can see, over and over again, implicit and explicit references to her identity as a British woman, living in the late 20th century, born of a Sudanese father and an English mother.

But whilst such references may be a consistent feature of this artist's work, we can see, equally as clearly, distinctly evolutionary processes within her painting and drawing. In earlier bodies of her work, humour was constantly deployed. As one commentator eloquently noted (regarding Medina's work) "humour is what one finds". The work that prompted such a comment largely consisted of studies of decorated interiors and were often bright and gaudy depiction’s of equally bright and gaudy objects, much loved by (and consequently, symbolic of), her father. As she herself recollected "I was brought up in surroundings where plaster cupids frolicked, lamp shade pom-poms shook and the Mona Lisa, framed in moulded gold plastic, smiled at me from every quarter. My father spent more time in John Lewis soft furnishings department than he did with me and my sister."

The next, clearly-identifiable body of work again explored, in fresh and fascinating ways, her identity as the daughter of a Sudanese Arab father and the dual senses of cultural identification and detachment that this identity brought with it. Painting from drawings that were in turn drawn from memory, she produced a set of paintings that showed Gulf Arabs occupying hotel rooms in Park Lane, London. As the artist herself wrote, the paintings "relate to my experiences as a chamber-maid in Park Lane. Every summer, Gulf Arabs in their droves, would occupy large sections of the hotel. What struck me most clearly, was that more than any other nationality, they would impress themselves upon the space. Rooms were permanently dark and perfumed, beds slept on, not in, chairs ignored. These groups of women rarely went out. They would sit or lie, sewing, making their own tea, chattering - completely oblivious to violent 'in-house' videos and young cleaning women. They were totally at odds with their surroundings and yet very comfortable within them. Their identity shone through."

We might be tempted to view these paintings as simply the interesting observations of an artist with an unusual eye and a gifted drawing ability, allowing us an insight into her father's domestic environment and the closed, private and (quite literally) guarded world of wealthy Gulf Arabs. But there was much much more to this work . Within these paintings, she had found unusual, fascinating ways of exploring what it meant for her to be born of a Sudanese father and an English mother. She experienced Sudanese/Arab culture in a multiplicity of ways that were as complex as they were simple - through the spectacle of her father's plaster cupids, or through the spectacle of Arab women, making tea on the floor of a plush hotel room carpet. And more importantly, Medina, through her work, was able to establish an intelligent and respectful proximity between herself and her 'Sudanese' heritage. Within this work, Medina was expressing "a desire to observe and understand" her Sudanese/English background...

The above extracts are from an essay by Eddie Chambers in Medina Hammad: Sudanese Stories (Usher Gallery, Lincoln, 1998. See (the 'Foreword' tab).