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Art piece made with fabrics of different colours, the piece stands on the floor and has a square shape

Making connections and building a network

Written by Harry RM
Published date 04 December 2019

Alia Hamaoui is a Camberwell BA Fine Art Painting graduate. Her work revolves around objects, memory, association and culture.

This year Alia has shown work at Lewisham Art House and the Hannah Barry Gallery. Her recent show, Springboard, at the Camberwell Student Gallery took the depiction of ancient Egypt in Hollywood as it's starting point.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I was born in France, but grew up between Lebanon and England. I’m currently living and working in south London. I have a studio in Brixton, but will be moving to a new space in Deptford soon.

Why did you choose to study at Camberwell?

I initially chose Camberwell to do a Foundation course and was planning to go on to study Middle Eastern studies and Arabic at SOAS afterwards, but I became hooked on making art and knew it was what I wanted to do. I really loved the feel of Camberwell, like a small town in a big city, and it became a really comforting community.

the corner of a gallery with four artworks
Installation shots from Camberwell BA Fine Art Degree show, Camberwell College of Arts, June 2018.

Could you describe your art practice?

My practice comprises of a multidisciplinary approach to making routed between sculpture and image making. I use materials and techniques associated with craft, such as tiling, upholstering, plaster and embroidery. I make works that feel and look like contemporary domestic objects.

I see the works as ‘constructions’ that investigate the importance we place on objects and how they relate to both memory and our desire to connect to disparate historical moments, cultures or timeframes. I am particularly thinking about these within the context of our post digital age and how our relationship to technology and simulacrum play a role in our exploration of identity and cultures.

The historical moments that I am interested in always centre around exoticism, Orientalism or Heterotopias and question my own relationship to cultural identity and heritage. In the past I have made a series of work based on bathhouses and appropriated relics from the British museum, whilst my latest work looks at the depiction of ancient Egypt in Hollywood cinema.

Art piece made with fabrics of different colours, the piece stands on the floor and has a square shape
From ‘Springboard’, CSG, Camberwell College of Arts, 16 September-10 October 2019. Pro-Pylon’- Foam, MDF, mesh, print on cotton, 123x87x12cm 2019

Tell us about your exhibition at the Camberwell Student Gallery

Springboard started when I was approached to do a show at the student led space. As a recent graduate and as someone who was involved in the gallery whilst at Camberwell it seemed like an apt fit. It’s been a harmonious collaboration working with Cecelia Graham, Lulu Cotell and Sophie Risner, as well as Charlie Mills who is a fantastic writer and wrote the wonderful text for the press release. I am very grateful to all 4 for their support.

The body of work for the exhibition takes a lot of influence from a story, from Peter Brosnan’s 2016 documentary 'The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille', that I became obsessed with. De Mille, the director of the film 'The Ten Commadments', commissioned a set for 'The Tale of Ramses and Moses', which was at the time considered the most audacious set ever made. Post filming, he buried it in the Californian desert. In the 1980s, archaeologists went on a hunt to dig up these ancient Egyptian props.

I started thinking of these objects as something that belonged as much to ancient Egypt as to the 1920s when the film was made, but also to the 1980s documentary, that centres around their excavation. There seemed to be a unique connection between these 3 disparate time frames. The documentary was filmed over a 30 year period, so the transition in the digital technology used within the film also became a way of showing time passing.

The absurdity of it all, the layers of simulation, our obsession with ancient Egypt and Hollywood became the focal driving force. All the prints made for the exhibition were created through manipulating screenshots from the documentary. They became a way to play with the idea of an endless cycle of self-referencing, but also to question ideas of authenticity and belonging.

The story felt like a very apt metaphor for the role that cinema and exoticism play in society’s desire for escapism. It became a literal springboard to consider how objects can become a symbolic representation of a jumping off point, allowing us to connect to disparate worlds. I wanted the works to feel like literal portals, exploring how objects can act as a moment between 2 states.

a strange sculpture sits atop a white plinth
Installation shots from ‘Alia Hamaoui’, residency at Peckham Artist Run, October 2018, London, UK ‘Bolster I’, Cotton print, embroidery thread, foam, soap, beads, steel hoops, mesh, grout, plywood, 45x45x115cm, 2018

What have you been up to since graduating?

It has been a pretty full on year. I attended 3 residencies, one at Artist Run which culminated in my first solo show. I then got to spend a month in Lisbon at PADA studios through a residency curated by YNGSPC.

In June Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills, James Capper and I invited 10 artists on a residency that we organised in the south of France. The idea behind it was to explore what it means to be a network of artists. We also organised a group show with Camberwell graduates Lowri Heckler, Simon Handy, Issy Mills, Gwenllian Spink and Savannah Grieve at Lewisham Art House.

I have had a work exhibited at Hannah Barry Gallery, shown site-specific work for the first installment of ABSINTHE and had a work shown during Arts Licks Weekend, in a show entitled ‘The World Tour’, curated by fivehundredthousand gallery.

Art piece hangs on a white wall
From ‘Springboard’, CSG, Camberwell College of Arts, 16 September-10 October 2019. ‘Sphinx Tablet II’- MDF, filler, plaster, acrylic, mesh, soap, pigment, 79x67cm, 2019

What are you currently working on?

I have had 2 pieces selected to be a part of the Exeter Contemporary Open. There will also be the fourth iteration of ABSINTHE in the near future.

My latest venture is moving into an exciting new studio in Deptford. A group of artists, under the leadership of Chelsea fine art alumni Billy Fraser and Tom Ribot, are taking over a warehouse space. We are building 8 new studios, a workshop and a gallery. We are incredibly excited about the space and can't wait to build an exciting new artist community.

Instagram: @aliahamaoui