“Skin in the game”–this was the first time I had heard of this expression. I had to google what it meant. Was it an idea that we are in the game of competing to win, to succeed and overcome? But for me this is a problematic concept I associate with capitalism and colonialism. Maybe my work here is saying that my own skin in the game is that of resistance to that idea. That as a woman I am inseparable from all other women past and future. That the only way women can overcome subjugation and oppression is as an ongoing community or collective. Ariella Azoulay’s idea of cocitizenship is an important one. The idea that we work together as companions to break away from embedded concepts and taxonomies that only serve to break us apart. The dangerous idea of the ‘past’ is that it allows us to think something is over and done and that past acts of violence are now sealed in the past. I wanted to make these postcard women present within our selves now, back in the game?
As human beings I feel that the idea of one individual succeeding has no meaning. We all have to succeed together. And also what is the meaning of success? Or does this expression mean getting involved? Getting stuck in all together to make something good happen for everyone? That we are all in the game together? We are all implicated so we can’t say, ‘I’m not part of this or that’. We have inherited and accepted so many problematic words, ideas, concepts and labels from Imperialism. We no longer even notice them.
For us as women it seems that the word skin is especially resonant. Our skins are always in men’s games I thought. My work resists the idea of a fixed skin. Slippery skins that cannot be grasped or held. Breaking, rippling, fracturing and dissolving the surface of the postcard images, I try to communicate a fluid movement between these women and their capture, and myself and women now and in the future. A tactile material binding us all together. We are all involved in this ‘game’ of living and it can only be better if we all pitch in and take risks to make it better for everyone not just ourselves. There is no past present and future. We are all at risk together. Our challenge is really to reshape the structure of everything and break down categories and labels that pin us into small boxes. I thought of animal skins and hunting and women. Stop hunting us, hunting our skins for your games. The past is ever present in the future. It is never over.
Palimpsests: Presences of Others is an ongoing body of work that is part of a process of exploring my Egyptian/British identity. It involves investigating colonial postcards of so-called Egyptian women and trying to find ways to resist the colonial gaze that captured these women and placed them on postcards in the 1900’s. A palimpsest is defined as ‘something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.’ The colonial gaze and Orientalist gaze is a layer of distortion hiding the women’s true selves, but yet the strength of their presence still comes through. I overlay the images of the women on the postcards with shadows, projections, distortions, reflections and refractions and use various personal objects relating to my own family history, to create new layers over the top of the women and then I capture these using my camera and a vintage macro lens. The new energies, movements, shadows, and objects intrude and disrupt the colonial male gaze and place my own identity and my own family histories into the frame in an abstract way. I think it is a way for me to both try to resurrect these resilient women from the past whilst challenging the identity boxes and categories that have imprisoned me and other women over generations. To blur the boundaries and edges of what a woman can be. To change the idea that these Middle Eastern women were somehow victims or passive subjects of either colonial or patriarchal gazes imposed on them. The five images I have selected here have been specifically selected from recent work that has not really been seen yet.
Salma Ahmad Caller is an Egyptian/British artist and art historian, who was born in Iraq and grew up in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. She now lives in the UK. Salma’s art practice involves creating an imagery of the narratives of body that have shaped her own body and identity across profound cultural divides. Her work is strongly visual but also incorporates text and sound works. It is an investigation of the painful and contradictory mythologies surrounding the female body, processes of exoticization, and the legacy of colonialism as a cross-generational transmission of ideas, traumas, bodies and misconceptions. Her art practice is informed by a Masters in Art History and Theory, having studied medicine, and teaching cross-cultural perspectives at Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
For more on Salma’s works, please visit https://www.salmaahmadcaller.com/