Emirati artist Maitha Demithan reinvents the technique of scanography with intriguing effect
It takes a lot of courage to take something flawless and pull it apart, yet that is exactly what Maitha Demithan has done for her solo show that is showing at Tashkeel.
Previously, the 24-year-old had perfected the technique of scanography, where she used a small, flatbed, A4 scanner to take multiple images of her subjects and digitally enhance them to create ethereal and beautiful portraits. It was as if her subjects, usually members of her immediate family, were floating in a sea of blackness – the colours and folds of their bright clothing dramatically enhanced.
But when she was preparing for her debut solo show, Mutajadid, Demithan pushed her own artistic boundaries and broke down her former technique so that the layers of work were overtly visible.
“It was very risky but I got fed up with having a screen between me and my work,” Demithan explains. “I needed something more physical and more honest. I wanted to move on to a new challenge.”
The result is a series of large works on black cloth, where the joints of the many images she used to create one work are physically laid on top of each other to create a new collection of digital works, which play with perspective in a form of self-deconstruction.
“Demithan’s work stems from a fascination with capturing the essence of her fellow human beings,” says Alexandra MacGilp, the curator of the show. “The composite images she creates are mechanical records of her sitters that also capture the emotion of the collaboration.”
What is notable about this exhibition is that prior to the show, all of Demithan’s subjects had been almost stereotypical Emirati characters: a man in a kandura holding a falcon, an older lady wearing a burqa and small children dressed in colourful garments.
But the artist says it was not a deliberate decision.
“It was simply my family. The people who were nearest to me,” she says. “I did not have an agenda to somehow preserve the Emirati identity.”
This becomes clear in the Tashkeel show because the subjects include her university teachers, staff at Tashkeel and a woman whom she found interesting because her limbs were covered in tattoos.
“The subjects are reflective of my life, these are the people who crossed my life and so I chose to depict them.”
Given this, any meaning or reference in the images often come from the viewers themselves who “project their own memories and literary association onto the images, which resist any one reductive meaning”, writes MacGilp in her accompanying essay for the show.
Even the title captures this elusive nature. Mutajadid is a difficult word to define, explains Demithan, but it connotes something that is constantly changing yet stays the same. Like falconry, she says, pointing to a work of her brother and her nephew titled Rashid and Abdullah. “It is an ancient tradition but it still happens today.”
Such an explanation could also easily fit a description of the city of Dubai, something that Demithan says she has never contemplated. But the more time spent looking at her images, the more reflective they are of the many layers that make up Dubai’s multicultural facets.
Demithan’s video installation, titled Abbi and Ummi, that depicts her mother and father by showing his skullcap and her burqa illustrate this point. In the abstract work, the shapes and patterns of tradition are there but they are presented in a totally contemporary way.
“My interpretation is that Maitha’s work is about the human condition,” says MacGilp. “And also the fact that you can never truly represent something, it is always a collage of viewpoints. This is made very explicit in these works.”
“I don’t think about what people think or how people might see me,” says the artist. “I just work.”
• Mutajadid by Maitha Demithan runs until February 27 at Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba. For more details, call 04 336 3313
Updated: February 18, 2014 04:00 AM