Chaos is a Flower at San Mei Gallery

Chaos is a Flower, featuring the work of Libyan artist Tawfik Naas, is the new exhibition in Brixton’s San Mei gallery.

Consisting of a large digital print, a wall mural, some suspended painted clothing, a sculpture and some bags, the work is, at first sight, a little baffling. But it comes into focus once you understand the history, circumstances and perspectives of the artist.

Tawfik Naas attempts to create ways and spaces to understand collective trauma. Chaos is a Flower draws upon the troubled history of the Great Manmade River, a government-led project in the 1980s to take water from ancient aquifers under the Sahara desert to the populous coastal regions of Libya. Described as the “eighth wonder of the world, by the authoritarian Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, it has yet to be completed and remains mired in controversy in the light of harmful social and ecological consequences. One of these was the displacement of Naas’s family and the death of his uncle (who spoke out against the project) in a prison massacre – the trauma at the centre of the exhibition.

The work takes images associated with these events and puts them in a different context as a way of offering an alternative version of history and a way out of original trauma. The most striking work features a seedling in the artist’s palm that his mother grew from a date seed – a reference to regeneration and new beginnings.

The show is a response to a real historical events which both relives, and offers ways, to move beyond them. As a complex web of personal and historical narratives, individual and collective experiences and real and imagined events, it is not immediately accessible. Rather you will need to read the accompanying notes and spend some time reflecting on the works, to understand what the artist is trying to do.

Chaos is a Flower runs until 1 June in San Mei Gallery, 39a Loughborough Road, SW9 7TB.

Entry is free and the gallery is open from 11 – 6 from Wednesday to Saturday.

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