By Hadley Nunes
Joining the studios this fall, Reem Bassous brings a unique perspective to the diverse community at Lana Lane Studios.
A painter and Instructor at Leeward Community College, Bassous has an impressive resume that includes a solo show at the Honolulu Museum of Art (HMA) that opened this past Spring. The exhibit entitled Reem Bassous: Beyond the Archive was curated by Healoha Johnston, assistant curator of Arts of Hawaiʻi who joined the museum in 2015.
I had the opportunity to meet with Bassous during the process of making her large-scale acrylic paintings for the HMA exhibit in her studio space/office while she was a Lecturer at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. Within a space barely seventy-five square feet she produced the largest works for her show at the museum—a process that was heroic to say the least. Paintings as large as 72” x 84” were stacked against the walls and in working rotation.
Her narrative, both painterly and abstractly autobiographical, explores a personal and collective past. To recall her memories from a childhood in war-torn Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, she combines the materiality of paint with an emotional application that imagines a haunting world where life and destruction coexist.
She began to conceptualize her most recent series entitled Prey/Pray in 2013, but it wasn’t until this year that she began to delve into the project. “When I first started doing my research on the Lebanese Civil War in 2006, I had no idea that it would take me several years before I could say that I began the war series,” she says. “I ended up with five or six different series, all under the same umbrella—that of the war and how we (as survivors of war) process memory.”
The motifs within Prey/Pray include the red back spider and a cane toad—both cannibalistic animals. In this recent work, the spiders traverse Islamic patterns that resemble Kufic script and serve as a web or network that connects them, while the toads are seen in silhouette branded with graphic articulations of the stylized script. These elements are part of a larger installation that is currently on view at the Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science and Technology from October 6th- 20th.
While the symbolism from her previous works remains prevalent, for this series her process has shifted. Veering away from surfaces described by thick layering of acrylic paint embedded with spackle, raw pigments, charcoal, and abraded by fireworks—her current pieces employ a lighter and more distanced touch with intricate drawings made from ink and charcoal on paper contrasted with the repetitive, design-aesthetic of wallpaper she produced for the show.
Bassous’ exhibit included a talk that covered her research and work at University of California, Santa Barbara on the 6th of this month.
Stay tuned for more about Bassous in an upcoming post that will explore her unique practice and work at Lana Lane.