Saturday, 27 March 2010

Mona | The Domestic Goddess

Mona | The Domestic Goddess

Unique Artistic Watery Technique.

Here is a short essay that outlines a unique artistic and inventive process. Mixing household chores, domestic cleaning products, kitchen utensils, paint and plenty of water, Mona creates her unfinished Masterpieces.

Mona’s work is enlightening when made clear. Too often artist’s works are seen in isolation and their work is rarely appreciated and wholly understood. I would like to try and explain the significance of Mona’s work in the following paragraphs. Mona is a bi-racial, multicultural, International female artist. She was raised in the Medina in Tunis, Tunisia in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, at that time the Medina was a place, which harboured the cultured and the aristocratic. Today the Medina is filled with cheap clothes from Dubai and has become more of a marketplace. Like all major cities across the globe commerce is overriding culture but through her artworks Mona tries to empower women worldwide. Her work plays a pivotal role in how we perceive art, and attempts to define what art is all about. She has created works that are stimulating, inventive, imaginative and challenging.

Mona draws inspiration from the traditional feminine role in the Arabic world, that of hard familial work throughout the day and the control and the distribution of water in the arid Saharan countries of North Africa. Through her excessive use of water she makes an astonishing artistic statement; not only does she use excessive water but she also uses every household item normally found in any average kitchen. Her technique embraces all the conventional notions of being a domestic Goddess and applies daily household chores such as washing, ironing, cleaning and scrubbing into her artworks. She imaginatively uses numerous kitchen utensils as her artistic apparatus. Earlier this year Mona and her husband, Stéphane Masnet had graciously invited me to witness ‘Mona at work’.

I arrived nice and early on a brisk February morning       and was promptly introduced to Mona’s living room in her spacious apartment on the 12th floor of a high-rise block on the outskirts of Paris. The windows of her balcony were wide open, in anticipation for what was to come. The ritual of her work had begun in earnest as I shivered in the early morning breeze but was all too curious to understand her bizarre and exquisite practices. Having entirely cleared the front room the night before she set about marking out her chosen area, giving herself plenty of space to work within. She carefully put plastic sheets down on the floor and shuffled around the room on all fours securing the corners with duck tape to avoid watery messes later.  I watched with acute fascination and bewilderment as Mona made herself busy by eccentrically emptying all the draws in the kitchen and then placing all the utensils around the room. Mona convinced me that the constant flow of fresh air cleared her mind and gave her ample reasons to work doubly hard, if only to keep herself warm; I, on the other hand, had yet to remove my warm sheepskin coat. Art, she enthusiastically explained, should be like household chores: enjoyable, a stimulating workout as well as the rewarding satisfaction when completed. She asked for my assistance and we both laid out a large think greyish canvas squarely in the centre of the room. She then filled up two buckets with plastic household cleaning products and a third with water, which she then placed vigilantly around the canvas. Next she knelt down in the right hand corner of the greyish canvas and scored out random shapes. Charcoal sketches initially and she slowly took out various products from her buckets and applied them onto the canvas squirting washing-up liquid in various spots, smearing them in with a small washing-up brush. Next she added bleach and distributed the liquid with two plastic cards; one from her local video-store and the other a flashy plastic business card recently handed out by a Gallery owner, with both cards she applies the liquid equally in different directions in a similar approach to that of the Karate Kid: Wax-on, wax-off. Wax-on, wax-off and with the third bucket beside her left knee she added the essential water. Before the canvas had time to dry she rolled it up and went directly into the bathroom to wash. With a scrubbing brush in her right hand she vigorously scrubbed away at the various liquids and then hung to dry. Mona invited me into her galley kitchen and made us both fresh coffee and warmed up several croissants as we waited for the canvas to part dry. Twenty minutes later she was back with her canvas and laid it out on the ironing board and ironed out the creases and once again, made dry. Still visible were the initial charcoal shapes drawn earlier. She placed the canvas back on the floor and started the process over. Drawing more shapes on the canvas with charcoal and a heavy HB pencil strokes. She started the process over using more bleach, upholstery stain remover, fabric conditioner and she even broke into a biological liquid capsule. Using various scourers and wire brushes she applied the liquids to the canvas constantly adding water throughout the whole process. As like before she briskly took the canvas back into the bathroom to wash and hang to dry. She told me, with a cheeky smile on her face and a slight embarrassed laughter in her voice, that she has been known to take her canvases into the shower with her as she bathed and often used the loafer, shampoo and soaps to add a different effect to her work, especially if the work was of a personal nature. The shapes or stains that stayed on the canvas marked out the framework of her new work. This process can take up to a month or two months to finish after washing, ironing, scrubbing and painting.
The application of paint comes much later in the process. Mona uses few colours in her works; deep reds, greens, purples and gold. The movement of paint should be viewed as if watching a performance; moving from left to right, right to left, up to down and down to up. This, she explained, enables the voyeur to read her work as if from a musical score or an Orchestra of musical instruments playing or better still, seen as a rhythmical dance; a ballet put to canvas.  In the work ‘Le Couple’, this ingenious process is clear for all to see. The movement of paint, at times vigorous and simple but bold: fast and slow as if physically enjoying and playing out her joy of sex and exploding her vision onto the canvas. Distinctly visible are the couple on the right hand side of the canvas, as seen by the voyeur. The two intertwined figures are caught in the act of lovemaking. The physicality and difficulty of having sex standing upright, the audience are immediately engaged in the memory of performing such an act. The laughter and ecstasy remembered and the acceptance of partnership understood. The act of lovemaking viewed with the generosity of spirit, kindly observed regardless of dexterity and skill. The viewer can quickly see the love that can be found in companionship and the mutual act of giving and receiving. The movement throughout the work is intense but big-hearted and warm in every way. At first sight the work seems unfinished but these white spaces are Mona’s trademark as they are gaps within the conversation to be filled by the audience, for the audience to participate and finish as they wish. Many regard her works as unfinished Masterpieces, ideas shared and irrevocably finished by the onlooker.

I sincerely hope that I have been able to paint a clearer insight into Mona’s work and her unique process, in which she battles to create her unfinished Masterpieces. Through her ability to take elements of the abstract and make them her own has earned her the reputation as one the greatest Arabic artists of all time.
© Joe Pollitt, 2010

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