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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 experience or not to what we see. In this manner, Art has an inexhaustible meaning and power to communicate regardless of the period of time in which it has been produced. Let it be Renaissance our present time, the art experience renovates itself in the “eye” of the beholder. And I believe that it is in this, sometimes unutterable experience in the presence of an artwork, what makes the experience of art a unique place of meaning for each person. 

You are presenting several sculptures, how are these artworks conceived? What are you exploring through this series of work?

The project I am presenting here is called Speak Mnemosyne: An Ocean of Words and some Middle-Grounds (2020) Ongoing. It is an exploration of language(s) as territory(s) of plural identity, and the function of memory and forgetting is the very process of language construction.

It was born during the lockdown that I spent in Paris. During these months, I did a lot of writing and reading and I began to explore a subject that had interested me before, but from a more personal point of view; my relationship with my mother tongue, Spanish. With English, which is the language in which I did all my scholar years, and which is my language of study.  With French, which I learned at the beginning of my pre-adolescence and in which I also developed the notions of my practice and that nourished me greatly, especially in the field of philosophy and literature. It constitutes my language of thought. Finally, my relationship with Arabic, the lost language, which I try to decipher in my own way and at my own pace.

Our memory encapsulates sensations, images, but memory passes more often through language, through the narration of our memories, through oral and immaterial memory. In this new project, I am also interested in exploring the relationship of language with biological processes related to learning such as sleep and dreams, themselves also related to the processes of memory and forgetting in a scientific way as well as poetic, and even mythological as in Greek mythology, which is a source of inspiration for me.

This series of sculptures is made up of poetic images that speak of this relationship to language and for that I wanted to use words, texts and books -objects of memory. I wish to invite the spectator to reflect on the way in which “immaterial” language “embodies” in order to be able to speak of our relationship with it.

You have mentioned materials. I consider you choose the materials you use in your sculptures meticulously; can you tell me why? Where does this particular attention to materials come from?

I have always been aware of the evocative power of materials even from my earliest artwork and have chosen to use mainly natural ones for my sculptures and my installations.  Let it be raw wool, flower petals, fabric, soap, sugar, beeswax, honey, paper, gold leaf, ashes, metal or rock, each has a symbolic value thanks to the different uses it encounters, its origin or the mythology that has been built round it. The precise choice of materials helps me establish a poetic dialectic that materializes in each piece. Each material has a story and a particular use, and according to this I create relations between them and notions I am exploring in the artwork. In An Ocean of Words and some Middle-Grounds (2020) I use mainly paper, ceramic, paraffin, thread, translucent cloth or translucent materials stones such as Quartz. Most of the pieces are white or transparent and evoke the intangible aspects of language. NAVIGATE THROUGH CAMILA SALAME’S ARTIST ROOM.

Camila Salame, b. 1985, Bogotá, Colombia.
Lives in Paris and works in Paris, Bogotá and Beirut.

Having finished her studies in fine arts and art history at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Salame moved to Paris, where she pursued a master’s degree in fine arts at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

Her artistic practice is expressed through the use of a diversified and often unconventional range of media and materials charged with personal and symbolic resonance. In the form of sculptures, installations, drawings, her work seeks to create semantic and poetic relationships that evoke narratives, fragments of an individual mythology still inscribed in a universal history. Echoing a personal quest around her origins, her work explores notions of place of origin, reconstitution of memory, and territories of affection, as well as emotional and intimate architecture.

Salame was selected to exhibit her work at the 64th Salon de Montrouge, the most important exhibition for young emerging artists in France in 2019. She participated in the exhibition Attaches – Young Colombian Artistic Scene in Paris, which took place at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris as part of the France-Colombia Cross Cultural Year in 2017-2018. Her work was furthermore shown in Beirut at the exhibition Exposure -Young Lebanese Artists at the Beirut Art Center in 2013, connecting her to the contemporary Lebanese art scene.Recent Solo shows are: But I am no more I, nor is my house now my house – at the Rincon Projects Gallery, Bogota, Colombia 2019 and Rose Water and Orange Blossoms at the Arts and Humanities Faculty exhibition space – Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia 2019.

Zahra Zeinali, b. 1975, Tehran, Iran.
Lives and works in Paris.

Zahra Zeinali completed her bachelor’s degree in painting from the Islamic Azad University of Tehran and worked as an art instructor for fifteen years. She developed an interest in photography and studied analog photography at the House of Iranian Photographers. In 2012, she relocated to Paris to continue her artistic journey as a painter. Later, in 2022, she completed her studies at the EFET Photographie École. This milestone prompted her to explore merging the two techniques in her recent works. Additionally, she commenced her role as an art teacher for children and young students at Le Cercle des Arts in 2022, allowing her to tap into the realm of childhood inspiration.

Zahra Zeinali has participated in several groups and solo exhibitions, including the recent Le Pays des Merveilles, Le Monde Invisible at Galerie Claire Corcia, and Alerte Rouge at Galerie Linda Farrell, Femme Vie Liberté at Galerie Sahar K. Boluki, Artcité à Fontenay, Comparaison au Grand Palais Éphémère, and Figuration Critique à Salon de Dessin Paris, among others.

Dialogues is a place for being vocal. Here, authors and artists get together in conversations, interviews, essays and experimental forms of writing. We aim to create a space of exchange, where the published results are often the most visible manifestations of relations, friendships and collaborations built around Sumac Space. SUBSCRIBE NOW TO STAY CURRENT.


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