There are few things as affecting as a child’s discarded shoe. There’s the instant worry that it was lost in sinister circumstances, and the everyday nature of the object means we can easily relate to it. We remember the act of learning to tie our own laces; we think of our children’s sneakers neatly placed in their cupboards and, in our self-involved way, imagine the horror of anything happening to them.
The emotionally charged nature of everyday objects is Sharjah-based Italian artist Paolomaria’s main inspiration. In his latest site-specific installations, on show at Dubai’s Mojo Gallery, you’ll see dusty clothes strewn on a canvas, an odd group of adults’ and kids’ shoes placed on the wall, and weary-looking furniture sitting in front of photos of people that have an eerie sense of being forgotten and stored for too long.
The first part of Paolo’s process in creating the collection was to gather the objects. Found everywhere from Ikea to flea markets, he spent time altering them to add a layer of the past. ‘I give them the sense that someone was there,’ he explains. ‘The exhibition’s title, ‘Sine Voce’, means ‘without voice’ – the people I talk about are those whose presence is completely lost. Sometimes people feel the need to completely delete a community, a religion or a language. I want the audience to spend even 10 minutes thinking about how we should not repeat these same mistakes.’
While instantly historical – his works are startlingly similar to the concentration camp memorial museums found around Europe – they also feature a connection to the present. ‘In front of this canvas [above left] I’ve placed six bricks and a bowl containing photos printed on wooden board nestled in ash. Some of them are of me and my friends and family, but some are of real victims.’ Referencing another work, he continues: ‘These two are a French couple we met in Oman, and this is a woman who died in Europe in 1945. This is my nephew, this my brother, and then this is a victim from the Cambodian killing fields. I want to show how the victims are not in a separate category from us. We are all the same.’
It’s all pretty dark stuff, but Paolo sees it as necessary. ‘I don’t want my work to be relevant. Give me the opportunity to burn all these pieces and paint butterflies, please. But unfortunately we’re in an emergency age – the gap between the rich and the poor is bigger than ever and there are so many terrible things happening. We have a duty to do something.’
Sine Voce continues at Mojo Gallery until April 30.
Exhibition: ‘Sine Voce’ at Mojo Gallery, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz. Open Sat-Thu 10am-7pm. Continues until April 30.
Price range of works: Dhs20,000-25,000 for canvases; Dhs3,700 for a limited-edition print.
The artist who most inspires me is… ‘Ansel Kiefer, a German painter. I like German art because the nation has a heavy history. Yes, they look forward, but they always remember what’s behind them.’
The place that most inspires me is… ‘it’s sad to say, but the concentration camp memorials in Europe. They are the only places where you can really touch a sense of memory. Of course, there are such places all around the world, but geographically I’ve had more access to those in Europe.’