Interview: Asmaa Elmongi | Alexandria, Egypt
Emma Drew introduces the Egyptian artist Asmaa Elmongi , whose work, featuring animal and human bones, reflects on what she calls "the deterioration of human ethics", and calls for:
'An Ethics of Coexistence'
Awash in the vivid hues—of blush pink, yellow aglow, and aquamarine—and soft textures—of pastels and fabric dyes—reminiscent of a slow sunset, that is, of placid resplendence and impressive feats of light, Asmaa Elmongi paints bones.
Shaded with charcoal's subtleties and diffuse washes of gouache that dissipate into nonexistent backgrounds,
Elmongi draws tubes and machine gears. Although she has favored darkly surreal and sci-fi tropes (and lays claim to Max Ernst and H.R. Giger as influences),
she enjoys the buoyancy of her media; although she has come to often refer to themes involving brutality and violence—“the deterioration of human ethics,” according to her artist's statement—Elmongi bases all of her work, simply, around her forms.
“It was just about joining bones and muscles of animals and humans, just to make forms,” she recalls. “I made sketches of human bones and hands and legs connected to machines and weapons but it wasn't actually about [those parts]. Visually it was more related to animation and movies.”
Currently, as a Master's student in Painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria, where she completed her undergraduate degree, her interest in sculpted space and animated forms is taking to the fore. “I always felt that my forms are more like 3D forms,” she notes, “when I paint I feel that I want to make it more like a 3D object.”
Moving through painting and drawing to video work to experiments with projected images, Elmongi is planning her final project around the use of three-dimensional holograms. “I want to make something to affect people, to [impact] those people who never even follow art exhibitions,” a goal which has now become a formal concern. “It's not only just a painting on a wall, that nobody can touch,” she says. “A 3D hologram is more accessible and more authentic for the audience to watch; [they can] move around it and coexist in the painting.
A major hurdle as of now, however, is finding someone to help her with the computer programming and tech-heavy aspects required of holograms. In the meantime, and in preparation, her work has begun to combine 3D objects with projections, an effort to explore the notions of perpetual motion and the immersive experience in which she is interested.
For her current project, a stage in her Master’s development, four projectors, in four corners of a room, cast painted images onto a cube that is constantly turning on one axis, itself covered with a connected combination of different parts of the human pelvis and backbone; the images that are to be projected on the box are small organic elements moving in an irregular pattern through the slots of the bones, going in and out of them.
The hope is that such a construction, particularly working with space and moving elements, will help ease the transition to full hologram. As with earlier works, the images remain organic, body-based and bone-like, but with the same forms come different ideas: Elmongi has focused this project on an idea of the search for self, one that brings us into contact with questions of self-perception, bodily needs and spiritual desires, the personal and relationships. “During our eternal search for ourselves, we may not know how, or where we can find it,” Elmongi writes in her preparatory materials.
“If I have the chance to implement a 3D hologram artwork, it will be better to exhibit it in the street to fulfill its purpose,” she explains. “It is for people to interact [with the artwork] and to be more affected.”
Regardless of explicit theme or content, the experience for the audience remains paramount, and a dedication to media and form in tandem—expanding, not abandoning, what painting and drawing can do—continues to drives Elmongi's work in new, important directions. She is excited, and ambitious: “I want to provide another way of seeing painting; I want to add something different to painting.”
Asmaa Elmongi graduated in Fine Arts, Painting Department, from Alexandria University, Egypt, where she is now a Master's student in Painting and Art History.
Emma Drew is currently completing her MFA in Art Writing at the New York School of Visual Arts, New York, US. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.