I’m interested in the idea of artefacts not as ethnographic evidence but as a portable ecology – they move, they travel, they contribute to cultural hybridity rather than cultural homogeny. This is a concept Anne Anlin Cheng refers to, that all these elements are constantly remapping how we read history and how we consume the present.
In her paintings, table vitrines, immersive installations and videos, Mandy El-Sayegh creates layered anthologies of found text and images from a variety of sources. These include newsprint, advertisements, aerial maps, anatomy books and her father’s Arabic calligraphy, which take on unexpected new meanings through proximity. Set adrift from their original contexts, these fragments become open to multiple readings that are personally, socially or politically determined and undermine the supposed objectivity of language and media. Moving between material, corporeal, linguistic and cultural frameworks, El-Sayegh highlights the constant flux of meaning that is shaped by environment and individual experience.
By emphasising the boundaries of her chosen medium, El-Sayegh draws attention to the systems that determine how information is categorised, contained and understood. She creates ‘quasi-archives’ in her table vitrines, suggesting associations and references through the objects’ placement in a shared, delineated space. In her Net-Grid canvases, overpainted grids simultaneously structure and obscure the detritus of popular culture. These paintings also reference the primacy of the grid in modernism, which El-Sayegh found alienating: ‘I felt that there was a whole set of systems that I did not know, like a joke that I didn’t get’. Instead, she creates ‘forms [that] bring about questions of legitimate and illegitimate readings of culture and context’, as well as the implicit power structures that determine who legitimises such readings.
The notion of corporeality is crucial in El-Sayegh’s work – she refers to her collage process as ‘suturing’ and her painted surfaces as ‘skins’. In her site-specific installations, newsprint and silkscreened texts are plastered onto the walls and floor with layers of latex that suggest medical associations or tattooed skin. The artist often incorporates the Financial Times, chosen both for its stature as an authority on global finance and the flesh-pink tone of its pages. The metaphor of the body grounds these elements in a universally recognisable register: ‘we all have bodies, regardless of our context, political leanings, and time contingencies’. However, our individual experiences within those bodies are shaped by external systems that, in turn, affect how we interpret El-Sayegh’s works.
Born in Selangor, Malaysia, El-Sayegh lives and works in London, UK. Her first solo institutional show, the specially commissioned installation Cite Your Sources, was held at London’s Chisenhale Gallery in 2019. Her work has also been shown in exhibitions at the Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon (2019); SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY, USA (2019); The Mistake Room, Guadalajara, Mexico (2018); Instituto de Visión, Bogotá, Colombia (2018); Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China (2017); and the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, Queens, NY, USA (2016), among others. She was shortlisted for the biannual Max Mara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, London in 2017.
Shortlisted for Max Mara Art Prize for Women, in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK
Mandy El-Sayegh: The Amateur and problems with metaphor, Home Works 8: A Forum on Cultural Practices, Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon
Mandy El-Sayegh: White Grounds, Bétonsalon, Paris, France
Dispersal, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong
Cite Your Sources, Chisenhale Gallery, London, UK
MUTATIONS IN BLUE, WHITE AND RED, Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY, USA
Mandy El-Sayegh: assembled at Tell el Ajjul, The Mistake Room, Guadalajara, Mexico
Figured Ground: Meshworks, Carl Kostyál, London, UK
Mandy El-Sayegh: Taking Part, Galerie Mihai Nicodim, Bucharest, Romania
This is a sign, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, UK
British Art Show 9, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and University of Wolverhampton School of Art, Wolverhampton; Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeen; The Box, KARST, The Arts Institute’s Levinsky Gallery and The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth; HOME, Manchester Art Gallery, Castlefield Gallery, The Whitworth and the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), Manchester, UK
A Focus on Painting, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, UK
your words will be used against you, Frieze LIVE 2020, The Institute of Melodic Healing, London, UK
Our ashes make great fertilizer, cur. Saelia Aparicio and Harminder Judge, PUBLIC Gallery, London, UK
Searching the Sky for Rain, SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY, USA
Ecologies of Darkness, SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, Germany
Deterioro y Poder, Instituto de Visión, Bogotá, Colombia
Lessons in Agronomy, Sifang Art Museum, Nanjing, China
The Mask Makers, cur. Marcel Dzama, Independent Art Fair, Brussels, Belgium
Boundary Work, Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj, cur. Christine Tohme, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Room Services (with Oscar Murillo and Yutaka Sone), New York Art Book Fair, MoMA PS1, Queens, NY, USA
For Pete’s Sake, Carl Kostyál, Stockholm, Sweden
Elizabeth House, London, UK
Responsive Eye, London Gallery West, London, UK
RCA Painting Degree Show, Royal College of Art, London, UK
RCA Panting Interim Show, Royal College of Art, London, UK
Public and private collections
Start Museum, Shanghai
United Arab Emirates
Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah
Kamel Lazaar Foundation, London
Collection Nicoletta Fiorucci Russo, London