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Camila Salame–A Garden of Tongues

An email conversation between the Artists Camila Salame and Zahra Zeinali

This email conversation between artists Camila Salame and Zahra Zeinali delves into Salame’s artistic journey and her current project, Speak Mnemosyne: An Ocean of Words and some Middle-Grounds (2020) Ongoing. Salame, a Colombian-Lebanese artist based in Paris, explores the intersections of art, identity, and memory through her sculptures and installations. The interview navigates her views on Contemporary Art, emphasizing the importance of establishing a connection between the viewer and the artwork. Salame discusses her ongoing project, which emerged during the lockdown in Paris and centres around the exploration of language(s) as territories of plural identity, intertwined with memory and forgetting processes. The series of sculptures, predominantly crafted from materials like paper, ceramic, paraffin, and translucent elements, invites viewers to reflect on the embodiment of “immaterial” language and its profound impact on personal and collective experiences.

Can you tell us a bit about you?

I am a Colombian-Lebanese artist based in Paris. I work in Paris, Bogota and Beirut.
While doing my fine arts and art history undergraduate studies in Bogota, I enriched my core art program with sociology and philosophy courses. These two areas of study were quickly integrated in my creative process up until today. Notions such as ‘Place of Origin’, ‘Reconstruction of Memory’, ‘Identity’, ‘Home’, ‘Loss of the Mother Tongue’, ‘Exile’, ‘Diaspora’ and ‘Migration’ amongst others, echoed in my own life experience and became part of my areas of artistic thought. As part of the third generation of Lebanese diaspora in Colombia and currently living in France for more than 10 years, I am constantly confronted with these subjects. I “weave” my own reflections about them through my sculptures and installations in an attempt to grasp responses. By creating semantic relationships at the heart of my artwork, I aim to invite the viewer to engage in sensorial or poetic narratives.

Before speaking about your artwork in the Sumac Space – Past Continuous exhibition, I would like to have your point of view regarding Contemporary Art. What is art for you today?

Art is today what art has always been, a means of communication, an expression of our cultural context, our rituals and beliefs, our vision(s) of the world and moreover an aesthetic experience that aims to connect the work and the viewer. Art triggers emotions, sensations, arises questions or provokes indifference in the “eye” of the beholder. Art has wished to convey different messages and meanings through its history.

I think that messages and meanings that Contemporary Art wishes to convey are much broader today than ever before and it reaches out to many other fields of thought and discourse such as politics, gender, history and then of course intimate and very personal stories. It has also the capacity of revealing voices from artists of diverse cultures and backgrounds. 

Yet, sometimes I feel that the message that some very interesting artworks wish to transmit is lost because of a lack of context. The message is then totally encrypted and the viewers feel excluded from part of the experience that the artwork would potentially bring them. I believe that this might be the reason why some spectators find Contemporary Art hermetic. I have always considered it fundamental to accompany my artwork with text which helps to open a dialogue with the viewer. I have a personal writing practice and it is in the writing process that many of my reflections and thoughts come together.

You alluded to the importance of establishing a link between the viewer and the work of art.
In my opinion, today’s art has elevated the position of the viewer to the questioner. Accepting this, can we say that today art is no longer what it has always been?

I believe that art has not changed in the sense that as I said before, to me, art aims to communicate. What has changed and what characterises Contemporary Art is the “shape” it takes, hence changing the experience.  For instance, the plural and diverse means that artists use to convey their message to the viewers, make them no longer only viewers but actors of the artworks themselves. In that sense, our way of understanding and seeing art, of experiencing art has changed. I believe that the idea of the viewer as a questioner is not new and it is an attitude on behalf of the spectator and his/her desire to engage with the work of art. I would say that, because “images” are omnipresent in our everyday life, the process of relating, interpreting or understanding visual material is more demanding. 

For centuries, only painting and sculpture were considered art. Art historian studies allow us to tell important facts about a particular painting or a sculpture, that can speak to us about their potential use and meaning at the specific time and place they were made. We can tell things about their technique and their materiality. That information may influence our experience in front of an artwork. Art Historians question and sometimes create relations between artworks of very different periods of time -past present- and produce new meaning through these relations. Spectators do this too, in their own way, through their own subjectivity, through their own questioning glance. There is always a possibility of relating our personal