iniva are pleased to present Emii Alrai as the second artist to be commissioned by Future Collect. Showcase – A Perpetual Remaking takes into consideration the ongoing artistic research and processes within Alrai’s practice.
Emii Alrai (b.1993, Blackpool) is an artist based in Leeds. Her practice is informed by inherited nostalgia, geographical identity, and post-colonial museum practices of collecting and displaying objects. Focusing on ancient mythologies from the Middle East alongside personal oral histories of Iraq, she weaves together narratives by forging artefacts and visualising residues of cultural collision. Alrai creates monumentally-scaled installations which play on museological displays and dioramas. She draws attention to the clash between the polished aesthetics of imperial museums and the states of ruin which befall archaeological artefacts and their landscapes of excavation. Alrai’s art often contains elements which appear broken or unfinished. In this, they point towards moments of rupture and of diasporic separation from homeland. Their incompleteness asks the viewer to imagine archaeological sites as spaces of active memory.
Capture (2021), the film resulting from research Alrai undertook on the Triangle Astérides residency in Marseille, explores these concerns through slow, unfolding contemplations on fragments, the landscapes they leave behind, and their new, classified existences within the museum. Its title alludes to the metal armatures which hold such objects, devices which assume neutrality yet ensnare, asserting ownership and inflicting colonial violence. Armatures also appear in the ink drawings in this showcase, propping up jewel-green, disembodied hands. A tangling of links between armour, arm, and armature is present. As with the archaeological object absent from its landscape, the viewer is drawn to think about the arm which once filled the contours of its armour. Armour is a kind of container, much like the turquoise vessels nestled in the bookshelves. Glimmering like oxidised copper, their patinated and bumpy surfaces imitate the ravages of time. In fact, they are made of clay: ‘imposter’ works which fabricate ancient histories and challenge ideas of value and origin in museological hierarchies. Similarly, a painting of a terracotta vessel shaped like a mythical animal is an imagined object. Here, these works are brought together under the notion of the ‘showcase’, or exhibit. The term ‘showcase’ also refers to the glass cases which museums use to display artefacts, encasing them in temperature-controlled and dust-free bubbles.
Alrai’s works make visible the mechanisms of museum display, and of colonial appropriation more broadly. They find resonances within the setting of the Stuart Hall Library itself – the crumbling exposed brick revealing the underlying structure of the building, and the steel bracketing which welds bookcases to walls. In highlighting these mechanisms, an emphasis on ‘process’ emerges. The drawings and sculptures have been selected from the works Alrai had available in her studio. They represent processes of working and experimentation rather than finished outcomes for exhibition. Alrai recycles her materials, perpetually remaking old artworks into new ones. These transformations present interesting questions for museums, in which acquired objects traditionally enter a static death state, to be preserved exactly as they are from the moment of their entry into the collection.
In the Stuart Hall Library, a place for learning and research, Alrai’s own research-based works will remain active and in-dialogue with surrounding texts and the library’s users. Alrai’s Future Collect commission will be exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in Spring 2022. Its display and acquisition will bring it into conversation with existing works in the collection, disrupting linear museological narratives. It will also be accompanied by a public programme which will include study days, conversations, and work with local communities.
This text was written by Future Collect Curatorial Trainee Amber Li to accompany ‘Showcase – A Perpetual Remaking’ in October 2021.
Emii Alrai is an artist based in Leeds. Alrai’s practice is informed by inherited nostalgia, geographical identity and post-colonial museum practices of collecting and displaying objects. Focusing on the ancient mythologies from the Middle East alongside personal oral histories of Iraq, Alrai weaves together narratives by forging artefacts and visualising residues of cultural collision. Drawing references from objects in museum collections, ancient writing from the Middle East and cultural memories, her work questions the value and origins of artefacts, as well as navigating the experience of diaspora.
She studied her BA in Fine Art and an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at The University of Leeds. In 2020, she undertook a residency in Calabria with In-ruins, Italy, and was selected for the Triangle Asterides Residency, Marseille. In 2019, she participated in the Arab British Centre Making Marks Project in Kuwait and the 2018 Tetley Artist Associate Programme. Upcoming and Recent group and solo exhibitions include: Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK (2022), Visual Arts Centre, Clarington, Canada (2021), Threshold, Leeds, UK (2021), Jerwood Arts, London, UK (2021), The Tetley, Leeds, UK (2020); VITRINE, London (2019), Fallow, Rectory Projects (2019), Two Queens, Leicester, UK (2019); GLOAM, Sheffield, UK (2018); (2018); Caustic Casual, Salford, UK (2017); Hutt Collective, Nottingham, UK (2017).
Image: Capture (2021) - Emii Alrai Film, 12:17 minutes.