Ruba Al-Sweel, Rojda Yavuz & Shamiran Istifan (Artist Collective)
Ruba Al-Sweel is a multidisciplinary creative with a practice rooted in writing and research focused on online movements and digital communications. She often produces text-based works that reference pop and mass culture. Layering written and visual symbols, she parodies mass media by exaggerating certain aspects of contemporary society. She has published extensively on visual anthropology with a focus on the Gulf. Her writing has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Art Asia Pacific, VICE, among others. She holds a master’s degree in media and creative industries from SciencesPo, Paris, and currently manages global communications at Art Jameel.
Rojda Yavuz is a visual researcher and writer largely working with writing and moving images. Their interests include the body, sexuality, and digital subcultures, and how these topics intersect. Their family is both a resource and starting point of their practice, foregrounding the personal by drawing links to larger structures and discourses.They hold a master’s degree in Cultural and Gender studies from SOAS, University of London.
Shamiran Istifan is a visual artist based in Zurich. Istifan’s art practice focuses on layered social dynamics, motivated by her personal experience of the way class, gender, and religion shape collectivism, politics, and interpersonal relationships. Her work was presented in several exhibitions in Zurich, Lausanne, London, Paris, Berlin and Abu Dhabi. In 2021, she received the Art Prize of the Canton of Zurich and was nominated for the City of Zurich Prize and Swiss Art Awards 2022.
This collaborative showcase takes vista in the sky (2023) as its centerpiece. An incisive and disturbing meditation, vista in the sky involves the viewer in a journey to the dark heart of contemporary society’s ambitions of growth and success under capitalism. The meditation is guided by Dhātu-Ba'dan*, a spiritual healer named after an ancient Himyarite goddess of the oasis and worshiped at tree-circled pools. Dhātu-Ba'dan was said to forbid any invocation to her without a priestess in her sanctuary, employing a khalimah (i.e. 'Dreamer') who would sleep to receive an oracle in the form of a prophetic dream. Today, tarot card readers take on this mediating role, inhabiting the damp, leaky corners of the web and using network technology to mediate the relationship with their earnest followers.
Through prompts given to an AI chatbot, trained on a decade of tweets by Ruba Al-Sweel, Dhātu-Ba'dan’s unsettling affirmations are strung together with excerpts from philosopher Buyng-Chul Han’s ‘Capitalism and the Death Drive’ (2021), playing out in a sonic universe of ASMR and ambient noise.
The video moves through nonlinearity, mimicking decentralized media pathways and streams of data: fragmentary, delirious, rapidfire succession of symbols and states of being, stitched together in an oneiric visual ballad of signifiers.
*Dhātu-Ba'dan in Arabic – while there’s limited scholarship on the etymology – reads as ‘of the body’ or ‘that with a body’, raising socio-techno questions of gender and ontology.