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A Hang Up

BA Painting student takeover: Alia Hamaoui exploring cultural identity

Written by Loula Mercedes
Published date 19 June 2018

Hello!  My name is Alia Hamaoui and I’m just finishing BA Painting at Camberwell College of Arts. I was born in France and lived in Beirut, Lebanon until I was 10. I then moved to Somerset, where I lived until coming to Camberwell.  I came to Camberwell to do my foundation and originally I wanted to do my BA at Chelsea. But my tutors thought that Camberwell was the best place for me and they were completely right. The painting course has been great and I love Camberwell because it is such a close knit community!

My practice deals with the expanded field of painting, where I reconfigure and play with materials from a specific environment to consider their relationship to one another and to the premise of cultural identity. The notion of the relic is really important to my practice in how it can convey the atmosphere of a place or time within an object and how it suggests man’s attempt to carve and construct our own identity. I play with this by using the process of construction and deconstruction at the core of my practice. I am also concerned with how images have effected our perceptions of identity. I play with poor quality digital images, embedding them into sculptures and materials to suggest a lack of separation between the physical and the perceived.

The pieces that I have made for the degree show are a kind of relics that tell a ‘story’ of cultural identity from the perspective of a bath house. I’ve made soap sculptures, a print, a towel rack complete with towel and tiled structure based on a fountain wall, in order to suggest the sensory qualities of this environment. I wanted to play with the mystery that is normally associated to a heterotopia location and a socially divided location, so the work I have created all play with illusionistic qualities and have a very strong architectural grounding. I am ultimately trying to make an object or arrangement of materials that are particular enough that they can evoke their own sense of atmosphere.

Collage of references

I started by just making loads of experiments and smaller works to test out new materials and how they work together. Its normally all quite shoddy at this point, but it’s pretty fun. I then try and figure out how to mash all these tested elements together. I normally do this by creating a sort of framework; sometimes I create a wood structure to make a more architectural surface to build these materials onto. I often have to get to a point when my practice is saturated with ideas and methods, so that I can start emptying out again and picking a specific avenue to explore.

My material choices are one of the most important parts of my practice. In this body of work for example, all the main materials chosen are used in order to evoke a bathroom or bath house world. So they tend to come out of a kind of conceptual framework. An image in some format is normally involved in the work that I make. So, I often think of how my materials choice can enhance a quality in the image that I want to evoke.

My Studio around February time, whilst making The Hammam Fountain Halved and The Mirage.

For example, in the piece ‘Steamy Gents’, the print is a tightly cropped image of a two men sitting in a pool in a bath house. The emphasis of the image is the plump bulbous bellies appearing out of the steam. I chose to print on two tapestry meshes overlaid, as the material allows for a kind of warping effect, that makes the image move as you walk around it. The material almost simulates the quality of the mist that is in the image, creating a relationship between the physical and the implied.  But a lot of the time my pairing of materials and how I play with them is much more organic, and more processed based. I think the two soap blocks (Rejuvenated Excavation I and II) are perfect examples of this.

Installation shots BA Fine art Camberwell Degree Show, Steamy Gents, Rejuvenated Excavation I and II

For this body of work, I have been using some moulding processes to make the tiles and soap works. I stayed clear from the traditional methods of making. So for example my tiles are made with plaster and sugar paper embedded, then varnished. This is instead of a traditional clay and glazed tile. The reason for this is it allows a certain freedom to make things when you are not concerned with if you are making them in the ‘correct’ manner, therefore you can develop your own method of making.  There is also a lot to be learnt in that tradition too, so maybe that’s what I’ll spend the next year doing.

As well as very physical techniques I also use Photoshop and Sketchup . They are very good for trying to get a lot of ideas out quickly as it allows you to almost instantaneously visualise something.

A Sketchup drawing for an unrealised sculpture

Related Links

BA Painting 

Alia Hamaoui