I grew up with Rima Farah. Not literally for we aren’t nurtured of the same soil and we weren’t student fellows, but as young artists we shared the post-art-college years of hope and struggle, we shared our first studios. Together she and I formed a business and over 20 years we collaborated on hundreds of prints and paintings. We exhibited all over in all sorts of guises; at fairs, corporate shindigs, in lobbies and galleries; we had dozens of showings in London, Europe, Japan, the USA, and across the Middle East. That ended in 2000 and in the years since our work and lives have spiraled apart, touching here and there, occluding and eclipsing and colliding.
Definitions, is Rima Farah’s first major exhibition since Dubai in 2003. It has been a long time in the careful maturing and her path has brought her to sufism, calligraphic complexities, paintings on ceramics, and in the while to establishing herself in Tangier.
I must refrain from attempted critique as my history with Rima compromises any objective view of the artist’s new work, but I do have insight to the backstories. I know the moves, her exhibition routine, for her moves and mine are born of our moves together. I know well the pre-exhibition busyness of mustering finance, timing, of the printing, framing, photography, transportation, of hanging and pricing; and preparing spiel for the catalogue, for online, the invite, the press and gallery’s pet clients; a different spiel for friends and yet different again for artist colleagues and rivals. Executing the tasks seems endless, like that list, exasperating and there’s an opening deadline and post-exhibition party to arrange, success to prepare for, and a brave face put in reserve for disaster.
Exhibiting is an intrinsic part of an artist’s job, if a job artist be, yet exhibitions are infrequent and an entirely different activity to the seclusion of studio working. Exhibitions need rarely used and unpracticed skills of personal presentation. The work is given public chance to speak, but the artist in public has to be looking good, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to glad-hand all comers with the real right words ready pat on demand. Every detail matters; of looking good, hair, teeth, face, wardrobe and shoes; an exhibition is a performance, an act of not seeming anxious or tired even while you are fraught and stressed.
Exhibitions are the artist's main chance and chance plays the hugest part in the success of any exhibition.
I opened one that coincided with an outbreak of Gulf hostilities, Rima and I contended with an earthquake in Cairo, and this summer in a tempt of fate I launched a show the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony which worked surprisingly well. Unwittingly competing for attention with Gulf War 2 was haplessly grotesque.
The artist cannot second guess events but you can curse your luck.
Definitions opened to thunderous rain which added to the drama and dampened a fine opening attendance. Rain didn’t stop the professionals, the press and TV crew, and it didn’t stop the success, or the party. The artist cannot second guess either people, or the elements.